With the expansion of the American natural gas industry, hydraulic fracturing—commonly referred to as “fracking”—has been utilized to extract natural gas from shale rock formations deep within the earth. The Eagle Ford Shale in particular is a 400-mile long sedimentary rock formation in Texas that has been one of the most heavily exploited areas for natural gas in America. It has also accounted for one of the most significant energy booms in the country.

However, the practice of fracking has come at cost for the population living within the vast expanse of the Eagle Ford Shale. Fracking has been frequently linked to causing environmental harms such as contaminating water supplies with harmful chemicals and releasing toxic chemicals into the air.

Moreover, the people on the receiving end of environmental repercussions from fracking in the Eagle Ford Shale are mostly members of low-income communities. Impoverished families living in the area commonly complain of “asthma, splitting headaches and other health concerns, all attributed to the air quality.”

The Texas legislature has also failed to be responsive to the environmental concerns of the people. Most of the communities are far from developed areas containing suburbs and cities—which give them very little political influence. An investigation by InsideClimate News found that 42 of the 181 state legislators of Texas have a personal financial stake in the natural gas industry of the Eagle Ford Shale.

As a result, the environmental problems that have arisen for low-income families have been perpetuated by a legislative system that has failed to represent their needs.

An eight-month long investigation carried out by the Weather Channel, the Center for Public Integrity and InsideClimate News has found that air quality throughout the 20,000 square mile region of the Eagle Ford Shale has only five permanent monitors installed—most of which are far from where chemical emissions are highest.

Furthermore, companies that exploit natural gas through fracking have not been held accountable for breaking the law. From January 1, 2010 to November 19, 2013, Eagle Ford residents have filed 284 oil and gas industry complaints, and 164 of those complaints have translated into documented violations. Nevertheless, only two of them resulted in fines, with the largest fine being a mere $14,250.

The expansion of the natural gas industry has received extensive support for its ability to allow for American energy independence and economic prosperity. However, the benefits have come with significant harm to many low-income families who have been unable to remedy their environmental problems.

– Jugal Patel

Sources: InsideClimate News, Salon, The Huffington Post
Photo: Empower Network