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Flares Dot Landscape, Pollute Air In Eagle Ford Shale Region

Photo of Benny Agosto

The stars at night may be no longer be big and bright in South Texas as industrial flares dot the Eagle Ford Shale Region, lighting the night sky and serving as a constant reminder of the gas boom that has taken over rural South Texas.

These flares are used by oil and gas companies to burn off gas by-products of exploration and fracking and may be responsible for heightened levels of:

  • Methane gas
  • Hydrogen sulfide
  • Volatile organic compounds (VOCs) including benzene, a known cause of leukemia

According to ShaleTest, a non-profit focused on monitoring air-quality around oil and gas sites, almost every facility with storage tanks or flares for waste glowed under infrared cameras. That glow is not the flame - or the stars at night - that glow is caused by contaminants leaking out of these facilities and polluting the air around them.

At least one family in South Texas has noticed a change in their quality of life, likely related to air quality, since oil and gas companies began fracking near their home. They reported smelling sulfur in the air and another petroleum-like substance to the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality.

The family was concerned that their current health issues and their future health status was being affected by nearby flares from oil and gas fields.

The man, who had never experienced migraines before, now deals with the severe headaches three to four times per day. His whole family has developed asthma and requires inhalers to keep the breathing disorder under control. He and his wife have developed unexplained skin rashes and their son has become prone to nosebleeds.

A TCEQ investigation revealed heightened levels of benzene and other air contaminants had risen beyond permissible levels because of the nearby fracking wells.

San Antonio is currently considered to be compliant with the Clean Air Act. It is the largest city in the U.S. that can claim compliance. But, the air quality changes caused by drilling in the Eagle Ford Shale Region may quickly change that; already, violations of federal air quality standards have been logged in Bexar County.

Source: San Antonio Current, "The sour side of life in South Texas' Eagle Ford Shale," March 27, 2013

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