North Texas Daily

Fracking in Denton potentially releasing dangerous fumes, adding to pollution

Fracking in Denton potentially releasing dangerous fumes, adding to pollution

Fracking in Denton potentially releasing dangerous fumes, adding to pollution
March 21
01:19 2019

According to the city of Denton’s interactive oil well map, there are several active oil wells near Hickory Creek, Old Alton Road and the Denton Country Club. One in particular near McKenna Park, though currently inactive, has been deemed a possible culprit for high levels of the carcinogen Benzene

There has been debate as to whether a direct link to Benzene and cancer exists. A document from the Environmental Protection Agency reports an “increased incidence of leukemia” in people who are frequently exposed to the carcinogen.

In 2014, Denton became the first city in Texas to ban fracking. However, that ban was overruled by House Bill 40, referred to commonly as HB-40, which reversed Denton’s fracking ban. According to the 2015 bill, Texas cities are only allowed to regulate “aboveground activity,” while below ground activity such as drilling and fracking for oil and natural gas is regulated by the state.

UNT geography professor Matthew Fry, is unfamiliar with the presence of the gas in Denton and its affects.

“There has been some studies to look at methane concentrations in the greater Barnett area and they found high methane in the area,” Fry said. “But I don’t know if there’s been a direct link to methane in health effects on humans – they do know that there’s methane there.”

“It is hard to use science to find this [100] percent verification of what is going — those are really rare and hard to do,” Fry said. “It is hard to do these environmental measurement studies and actually find these associations. This has been a big issue with the fracturing boom throughout the U.S.”

Currently, there are no drilling projects being conducted on the 315 wells in Denton, but many are still active due to “reworking activities” which is “work performed on a well after its initial completion to secure production where there has been none, to restore production that has ceased, or to enhance or increase production within the zone originally completed or to repair the well,” according to the city of Denton’s Gas Well Activity chat.

“Don’t Frack with Denton,” a documentary made by UNT alumni Garrett Graham, chronicled local activists journey to passing the initial ban. The concerns of health and environmental detriment those activists had are still present as both the city of Denton and Denton County continue to grow in population.

Infographic by Isabel Anes.

“Basically, the reason that I made the film is pretty simple — I care about the environment and care about clean air and clean water,” Graham said. “I was in the graduate program at UNT for documentary filmmaking. When I asked myself ‘what is an important film topic that I should tackle with my thesis documentary?’ the most significant thing going on at the time was clearly the fracking.”

Graham said regulatory agencies like the Texas Railroad Commission “don’t care” about possible health risks from air pollution that happens as result of oil wells in cities like Denton, which is located on the Barnett Shale, a region that is abundant with natural gas.

The gray areas in determining environmental dangers of these oil wells and the exact causes of them becomes more convoluted when legislation is taken into account. Locally, the city of Denton offers information on their website about mineral ownership on properties and how residents can file complaints about a well near their property, but there is nothing the city can do to halt the activity if it is done within the state guidelines.

“Because you are talking about noxious gases that are invisible to the naked eye, and just kind of float around in the air, it is very hard, especially in a court of law to make a one to one comparison about these people who are suffering from asthma or who are suffering from cancer must have come from this fracking site over here,” Graham said. “Some people have pointed out, rightfully so, that a huge contributor of the noxious gases in places like Denton and everywhere else is car exhaust. Those fumes are just as cancer causing as any other, but that is not something that people usually think about as being a crisis like fracking and all of those things mixed together into the air so that if you’ve got a child with asthma, you can’t really pinpoint any one thing that’s responsible for it.”

Ed Soph, a local environmentalist and member of the Denton Drilling Awareness Group, said the organization and those who are concerned about natural gas pollution have shifted their focus to the current reverse setback ordinance. Reverse setbacks mandate how close oil or gas wells can be to buildings like homes or schools. Currently, the reverse setback distance for Denton is 250 feet. Soph said he and the Awareness Group are “working on convincing the city to increase reverse setbacks.”

Graham said the devotion to anti-fracking activism has died down due to time passing and the decrease in active fracking in Denton.

“I think a lot of people were really, really heartbroken, really discouraged,” Graham said. “People go back to their lives, or the young people that are really passionate graduate college and they go move somewhere else and they take that passion elsewhere. I moved to Austin and I brought my passion with me. I’m no longer a part of Denton even though I obviously care a lot about them.”

Denton has had significant population growth within the last 10 years, ranking 28th in the country for city growth in the 2015-2016 period according to demographics.texas.gov.

Fry said the population increases occurred in tandem with natural gas well use. As Denton residency approaches the projected 145,990 in 2025, there is the question of whether new Denton residents will coincide with more environmental activism and possibly provide concrete answers as to the health implications of North Texas’ oil and natural gas industry.

Featured Infographic by: Isabel Anes.

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Nikki Johnson-Bolden

Nikki Johnson-Bolden

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3 Comments

  1. Yetypu
    Yetypu March 21, 11:10

    “Currently there are no ongoing projects” – so isn’t it dishonest in the graphic to refer to ongoing “fracking wells”?

    Reply to this comment
  2. Bobby
    Bobby March 22, 07:25

    Walking down street could potentially cause tornado that would cause death and destruction to all….. Come on.

    Reply to this comment
  3. Me
    Me March 22, 13:21

    Second infogram is incorrect. Only 315 wells are within City of Denton. 215 wells are in the ETJ and those are under some city regulatory jurisdiction.

    Reply to this comment

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