Fracking on Film: As Promised Land opens, group warns of dirty drilling damage to health and the environment
AUSTIN - As the new Matt Damon movie, Promised Land, opened in theaters today, Environment Texas sounded the alarm about the very real damage fracking is doing in here in Texas.
“Spoiler alert: The truth about fracking is even worse than what you see in the movie,” said Luke Metzger, Director of Environment Texas. “Right here in Texas, dirty drilling operations pollute our air and use huge amounts of water.”
Promised Land is set in a fictional town in western Pennsylvania, where a natural gas salesman works to convince farmers to hand over the rights to their land to allow hydraulic fracturing (or fracking), the controversial form of gas drilling that injects chemical-laden fluid deep into the ground to force natural gas to the surface. Damon’s character meets resistance from the community as more and more residents consider the terrible effects that fracking could have on their land, water and health.
In addition, Environment Texas cites the following examples of fracking damage here in Texas:
- In the Dallas-Fort Worth region, air pollution from oil and gas extraction is estimated to almost equal the smog-forming pollution from all cars and trucks in the area.
- The average public health costs of air pollution from fracking operations in Texas’ Barnett Shale region reach $270,000 per day during the summer smog season.
- Oil and gas companies used an estimated 25 billion gallons of water to frack wells in 2011. The need for vast amounts of water for fracking is driving demand for new water infrastructure. Texas’ official State Water Plan calls for the expenditure of $400 million on projects to support the mining sector over the next 50 years, with fracking projected to account for 42 percent of mining water use by 2020.
- Taxpayers may wind up on the hook for plugging and reclaiming orphaned wells. Texas already has more than 7,800 orphan oil and gas wells – wells that were never properly closed and whose owners, in many cases, no longer exist as functioning business entities. These wells pose a continual threat of groundwater pollution and have cost the state of Texas more than $247 million to plug.
Promised Land hits theaters days before the start of the 83rd Texas Legislature. With the state oil and gas regulator, the Railroad Commission, under sunset review, Environment Texas will work to pass regulations to minimize the damage from fracking.
Environment Texas supports:
- Increasing maximum penalties the Railroad Commission can assess to $25,000 per day (consistent with the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality) and ensuring penalties at least recover the economic benefit of non-compliance
- Ensuring up-front financial accountability by requiring oil and gas companies to post dramatically higher bonds that reflect the true costs of drilling.
- Establishing minimum inspector-to-well and annual-inspections-to-well ratios.
- Publishing comprehensive oil and gas enforcement data online in a publicly accessible, searchable format
- Repealing high cost gas tax exemption
- Requiring recycling and re-use of wastewater produced by fracking. Currently the vast majority of wastewater is not recycled but disposed in underground injection wells, where the water is removed forever from the hydrologic cycle.
In addition, unlike the fictional town in Promised Land, communities here in Texas might lose the right to decide whether to allow dirty gas drilling or not. A 2011 bill by state Rep. Jim Keffer would have effectively blocked Texas cities from adopting local ordinance to protect their communities from the threat of fracking. While the bill didn’t pass that year, Environment Texas will work to defeat any such attempt to roll back citizens’ rights in the 2013 session.
“The right to say no to dirty drilling doesn’t just belong on the Hollywood screen,” declared Metzger. “Every community here in Texas has the right to protect its health and environment from fracking, and we will defend that right every step of the way.”