Liveable Arlington is a grassroots children’s environmental advocacy organization based in Arlington, Texas, that advocates for clean air, clean water, and responsible stewardship of our environment for future generations. Core to our mission is ending hydraulic fracturing (fracking) expansion next door to Arlington homes and daycares, advocating for strong standards to reduce the health impacts of existing drilling for methane gas in frontline communities, and a rapid transition to clean energy.
Arlington is a city on top of a natural gas reservoir called the Barnett Shale in Texas, with about 400,000 residents. In its 99 square miles there are close to 400 methane gas wells employing hydraulic fracturing at 52 drill sites within Arlington. The standard setback or buffer zone of 600 feet is measured from the wellhead to the main building of the “protected use,” and is routinely lowered to 300 feet by the city council. That means there are active gas wells right next door to daycares, homes, schools, and medical offices.
These fracking operations extract gas and generate dangerous pollution that can have direct effects on the health of those working in or living near oil and gas operations. Air pollutants emitted alongside methane include volatile organic compounds (VOCs), polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons, carbon monoxide, toxic heavy metals and soot, and include several known human carcinogens, notably benzene and formaldehyde. Ethylbenzene, another hazardous pollutant from oil and gas emissions, is a probable carcinogen. In addition to these dangers, VOCs also interact with other emissions in the presence of sunlight to form ground-level ozone pollution.
In Tarrant County, where Arlington is located, close to 1 million out of 2.1 million residents live less than half a mile from fracking sites. In Tarrant, 1 in 5 children have asthma. Since 2014, Tarrant has had the highest rate of birth defects of similar counties in our state. Overall, 5.3 million Texans live within half a mile of an oil and gas site.
Besides causing local health impacts, methane and other dangerous pollutants released from these fracking operations worsen the climate crisis. Methane is a highly potent greenhouse gas with more than 80 times the heat-trapping capacity compared to carbon dioxide over its first 20 years in the atmosphere. Climate change is a health emergency, leading to more frequent and intense extreme weather events like flooding, excessive heat, drought and wildfires. It creates longer and more intense allergy seasons, increased risks from water-borne and vector-borne diseases like Lyme Disease, worsens air quality and damages mental health.
The asymmetry of power and resources between a small grassroots organization like Livable Arlington and the nexus of industry and their powerful political allies is immense. Giving up is not an option, however, because our children’s health and future hang in the balance.
Livable Arlington has celebrated successes at the local level, including organizing the community to send thousands of letters to successfully stop an injection well from disposing toxic fracking waste by the city’s lake, a major drinking water source. We’ve built on this success and won stronger protections for residents in gas drilling rules, like requiring supermajority votes for setback reductions, electric rigs, noise rules, and protecting daycare playgrounds, and began to challenge new fracking permits. After a long, two-year, hard-fought campaign, we stopped the permitting of new gas wells next door to a Arlington daycare where all the enrolled children are black and Latino.
We’ve also made our case directly to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. We invited our region’s administrator to see for herself the impact that drilling has on Arlington residents, taking her on a tour to see wells adjacent to day cares and in between apartment buildings.
Ongoing challenges are steep. A global energy giant based in France – a country that itself bans hydraulic fracturing – is ramping up new drilling in Arlington. In the last two years, they have applied to drill almost 50 new gas wells here, all of them next door to homes, mobile home communities, and daycares.
At the local level, we want an end to new drilling next to schools and daycares and homes, protective setbacks in line with scientific research, round the clock air monitoring with community oversight and penalties for polluting fracking operators.
At the national level, the federal government is considering a suite of rules that would help reduce the impacts of methane and other air pollution from the oil and gas industry. EPA needs to finalize strong rules in 2023 to clean up methane and VOCs from new and existing oil and gas operations. This would bring some relief to a community already overrun with fracking and huge expansion plans in the works. It would be a big win – the first federal rules to require cleanup of existing wells. As mentioned earlier, these rules would be particularly impactful in Tarrant County because of the extraordinarily large number of people living and going to school next to fracking operations. Almost one million Tarrant County residents live less than half a mile from a fracking site – our county would be one of the biggest beneficiaries of speedy implementation of these proposed new rules.
The Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA) is also reviewing rules to reduce methane leaks from the nation’s vast system of pipelines. PHMSA must quickly finalize rules that improve leak detection and repair, without exemptions that could allow leaks to continue for years while pipes are awaiting replacement. Arlington has hundreds of miles of gas gathering lines moving unodorized methane gas from drill sites to compressor stations and from there to other places. Most are next to homes and schools. We welcome new protocols that will protect communities that have pipelines.
EPA is also in the process of proposing a regulation called for under the Inflation Reduction Act - the Methane Emissions Reduction Program. This program would require polluters to be held financially responsible for their methane emissions and needs to be fully implemented. Coupled with resources for industry to reduce their pollution and backed by strong standards on oil and gas pollution, these activities could have a measurable impact on driving down methane emissions.
Livable Arlington strongly supports EPA and PHMSA finalizing strong protections to limit emissions from oil and gas wells. It’s a critical step toward the future we’re working tirelessly toward: a future where no new gas wells are allowed where we all live, work and play.
Blog last updated: November 29, 2023