TCEQ, â??lapdog of industry,' says â??no need for alarm' over toxics

Greg Harman

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I'm not sure why the protesting rockers up in Cowtown honed in on trees like they did. I mean, I like to hug a tree as much as the next brainwashed lover of all things verdant and life-sustaining (you rascals!), but in the miasma of potential problems that natural gas drilling in North Texas could create â?? drinking water spoilage, toxic air emissions, earthquakes, and the possibility of increased cancer rates â?? I would have chosen a different tune to spoof than Tom Petty's “Free Fallin'.”

Officials with the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality â?? currently defending themselves against charges of operating under regulatory cover as a “lapdog for polluters” â?? “rushed” to Fort Worth this summer to investigate growing public fears of toxic air emissions from an explosion of gas-well drilling that began several years back.

Fort Worth Star-Telegram writer Mike Lee reported that one in five sites explored by the TCEQ were found to be emitting high levels of cancer-causing benzene.

The Texas Commission on Environmental Quality has been testing sites since late summer and released the results at a news conference in Fort Worth. Benzene levels exceeded the recommended safe levels at 21 of 94 sites, the agency said.

One company has already made repairs at a site where the benzene level measured 1,100 parts per billion, hundreds of times above the state and federal standard of 1.4 parts per billion.

"Although the results are complex, it is clear that gas production facilities can, and in some cases do, emit contaminants in amounts that could be deemed unsafe," the agency said in a news release.

No fines are expected to be issued related to the pollution. In fact, TCEQ employees went into damage control on behalf of industry. The head of toxicology, told the Los Angeles Times, “there is no cause for `watch the qualifier!` widespread alarm.”

It was suggested that bad publicity was punishment enough.

"We've got industry's attention," said John Sadlier, TCEQ's deputy director for the Office of Compliance and Enforcement. "This kind of attention and scrutiny is not what industry wants."

The spotlight has led many of the companies to fix problems on their own, he said. The Texas Pipeline Association, which represents gas companies on the shale, said producers are working to ensure things are running properly.

So, as San Antonio considers the natural-gas-plus-alternatives energy path forward, and I catch up on developments up north, I'm not getting where “Tree Fellin'” comes into the picture. Oh, make no mistake, I celebrate rabble-rousers in all their denimy shapes, but maybe “Don't Come Around Here No More” would of sent a stronger message.

Or, in the interests of keeping things local to the Fort, throw some Toadies up in that motherfracker (h/t mr. maas) with a reworked “I Come From the Water.”

It could go something like â?¦

I come for the water / 
I woke with the earthquake zones
 / I left my TV home / I got my friends to save / 
I sucked that benzene in
 / And rolled upon the sand / 
And burned beneath the flares / 
Is this human?
 / I come for the water

You know, if'n you should rock some new protest vids in the future.

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