Fracking in North Texas: A Local Perspective

All community residents are rallying against fracking. Photo by Laci Kettavong
“Fracking,” short for a method of extracting gas or oil from the ground called hydraulic fracturing was not in my vocabulary when I moved to Denton, Texas in August of 2011. I soon grew an affection for the town, and paired with my academic pursuits in philosophy and environmental issues at the University of North Texas, fracking in Denton became an industry of particular interest to me.

The fracking conversation that arose in recent years began with the environmental concerns of residents, then policy and regulations (or lack thereof) in response to these concerns, and finally, it has come down to a small town fighting for its representation and prevention of the health consequences that studies have proven could arise for the people, the land, and the wildlife that dwell here. This issue is particularly relevant due to the overturned fracking ban that Denton residents voted in last November; fracking has unfortunately re-started in the Denton area in the last month.

Peregrine falcon. Photo by Justin W. Moore
Peregrine falcon. Photo by Justin W. Moore
Many different studies on the local, national and international levels have brought to light the health consequences and the effects that fracking will have on the land, people, and wildlife in North Texas. Between late spring and fall, I usually take to the trails around Denton to visit the trees and grasslands, many of which are near a creek or body of water, land features in danger of being seriously affected by fracking.

Out on these trails, I’ve seen many gorgeous birds native or migrating through Texas, such as herons and falcons and white-tailed deer during each season. I don’t always catch the armadillos rummaging or the cottontails burrowing, but I can’t help but think that their home, water and air are being harmfully altered as well, and that resources vital to their sustenance are being poisoned. In nearby Wise County, residents reported that their water “stung their eyes during showers, and their animals refused to drink the water” after fracking had begun. From domestic animals to their wild relatives, creatures in North Texas are facing similar discomforts, but without a voice to represent them.

Cottontail rabbit
Cottontail rabbit. Photo by Justin W. Moore
On June 17th, a groundwater study was published in the trade journal Environmental Science and Technology. The study was conducted in collaboration with the University of Texas at Arlington. Over the past two years, samples were collected from 550 water wells in 13 counties along the Barnett Shale, Denton County being one of them.

The results of the study make it clear that using well water in the Barnett Shale has proven to be potentially dangerous, and it might become necessary not to use the water, which is not a feasible action for many. In another recent scientific study report from CHEM Trust, a British charity, CHEM Trust warns of severe risks to human health and wildlife from chemicals used in fracking. Part of the issues noted in this report include the possibility of harm to an estuary in Wyre, Lancashire in the UK, home to wading bird species of international importance.

White tailed deer. Photo by Justin W. Moore
These findings are contrary to claims from the United States Environmental Protection Agency: “We did not find evidence that these mechanisms have led to widespread, systemic impacts on drinking water resources in the United States,” [their] study says, reported in early June. The fracking process involves injecting millions of gallons of water mixed with chemicals into rock formations at high pressure, which breaks the rocks apart to release trapped fuel. It is not out of the question that this process might affect groundwater, as fracking is conducted in the vicinity of it, but the idea is being fought by the industry and not being supported by the EPA.

We need communities and individuals to continue to stand up to their local and state governments and demand that fracking is banned, as I have seen the hardworking and determined people of Denton, Texas do for the last few years.

Denton, Texas residents formed Frack Free Denton as part of their initiatives to educate the public about the dangers of hydraulic fracturing. See more of their story and efforts here.

Alacibout the Author: Laci Kettavong was born and raised in Dallas, Texas. Her family’s story of emigration from the Lao PDR to the United States has influenced her academic and professional interests to include sustainability, water issues and environmental history. Laci is currently an NWF EcoLeader Fellow and is helping to write content for the EcoLeader Career Center. She is also a graduate student and teaching assistant at the University of North Texas, studying environmental philosophy and science. Laci enjoys creating art, gifts, and décor from recycled and reusable materials and being a part of the vibrant Denton, Texas community where she attends school. The community has come together to enforce the fracking ban for which they voted and she has become interested in covering and sharing their story.