Be an Advocate

I just got back from a training on something called “citizen advocacy.”  I didn’t exactly know what this meant, but it sounded hopeful and empowering, so I went.

I’m sure you’ve heard about these insidious “lobbyists” who secretly control our government, sneaking in through the back door and passing our officials wads of greasy cash through a haze of cigar smoke.  Without knowing much about it, I felt pretty sure that lobbyists are destroying the power of the voter.  What I didn’t know is that anyone can leverage the unholy power of lobbying (minus the wad of cash… the potency of which remains to be seen).  I have followed politics all my life, so I don’t know how it escaped me that there is way to access government aside from the impersonal and time-sucking activity of writing emails and making phone calls.  Anyone can meet with their rep and have a normal, face-to-face, give-and-take conversation.  One girl at the training had visited her reps many times!  Shocking! Of course, your representative needs you and your vote.  Most likely they really want to make decisions you support and are happy with.  But there are a million issues floating around.  Your rep does not have time to do a poll on each and every one.   Which is where we come in.

Here’s what we, as citizen advocates, do.

1) Provide information.  Document the problem and suggest solutions.  Build a bridge to our reps and use it.

2) Gather information.  Get the inside scoop.  Hear what the opposition is saying.  Understand the rep’s larger agenda.

3) ASK for a commitment.  Know where they stand before you leave.  Follow up with them later.

Not too hard, right?  The best way to get a meeting with your representatives is to contact them while they’re at home.  Don’t travel to Austin to see them because they’re going to be busy and you won’t get as much time.  Fortunately, fracking is a hot issue so, while you could come prepared with articles and reports that support your position, your rep will also already have a context for the conversation.

San Antonio Mayor Julian Castro as well as U.S. Reps Canseco, Cuellar, and Hinojosa (districts 23,28,15) were at the Eagle Ford Shale Consortium in San Antonio just a few weeks ago, the latter three speaking on a panel called “Moving Communities Forward.”  Even if your positions are completely opposite to theirs, take the opportunity to learn about the other side.

I am embarrassed to say that, before the training, I didn’t know my state representatives.  I did know my rep at the federal level, but really, gaining control and being heard at the state level is critical for many issues.  By starting local we can magnify our voices.  Find out who represents you.  Good luck!

If you get nervous, imagine yourself here.


Study: “Impacts of Gas Drilling on Human and Animal Health,” and what you can do about it.

Veterinarian Michelle Bamberger and Robert Oswald of the Department of Molecular Medicine at Cornell University published their findings on livestock and pet illness related to fracking in “New Solutions: A Journal of Environmental and Occupational Health Policy” earlier this year.  “Impacts of Gas Drilling on Human and Animal Health” is a hair-raiser.  “Because animals often are exposed continually to air, soil, and groundwater and have more frequent reproductive cycles,” the abstract explains, “animals can be used as sentinels to monitor impacts to human health.”  The authors most frequently observed reproductive, neurological, respiratory, and musculoskeletal failure, and sudden death.  It doesn’t take much imagination to see how these problems can creep up on people with chronic exposure.

Farmers, ranchers, and people who live close to the land and rely on clean air, soil, and water for their livelihoods are bearing the brunt for irresponsible drilling.  In one case reported, “exposure to drilling wastewater led to a quarantine of beef cattle and significant uncompensated economic loss to the farmers.” Most chilling was the sudden death of 17 cows in one hour after exposure to fracking fluid.  Notably, “the final necropsy report listed the most likely cause of death as respiratory failure with circulatory collapse,” not necessarily drinking the poisoned water.  In another case, 60 head drank from a creek into which wastewater was dumped.  The other 36 head did not drink from the creek. “Of the 60 head that were exposed to the creek water, 21 died and 16 failed to produce calves the following spring.”  The unexposed 36 had no unusual problems.  Illegal dumping of wastewater was not the only culprit: “at another farm, 140 head were exposed when the liner of a wastewater impoundment was allegedly slit… and the fluid drained into the pasture and pond used as a source of water for the cows.” Half of those 140 cattle died, and “there was a high incidence of stillborn and stunted calves.”  Ranchers take note: contamination can devastate a livestock operation, and with current levels of regulation, receiving just compensation could be an uphill battle.

The study looked at toxicity in pets as well: “[Home]owners have observed wastewater being spread on the roads during all weather conditions, and noted that cats and dogs in their neighborhood licked their paws after walking on the road, and also drank from wastewater puddles; some of these animals became severely ill and died over a period of one to three days following these exposures.”

The effects appeared in people, too, particularly children, who are more vulnerable to toxins.  “A child living in Home B began showing signs of fatigue, severe abdominal pain, sore throat, and backache. Six months later, the child was hospitalized with confusion and delirium and was given morphine for abdominal pain… A toxicology test revealed arsenic poisoning as the cause of the child’s sickness. The family stopped using their well water despite test results indicating that the water was safe to drink, and the child gradually recovered after losing one year of school. During high-volume hydraulic  fracturing, substances that occur naturally in the shale, including arsenic, come to the surface in wastewater. In this case, the wastewater was stored in the impoundment, where aerators misted the chemicals into the air, increasing the chances of inhalation by animals and people; also, surface spillage of wastewater, as noted above, could have contaminated the ground water.”

Interestingly, these findings corroborate those of the Energy Institutes’ study, (which KSAT 12 reported as “Fracking Does Not Contaminate Groundwater.”)  The overwhelming evidence from both studies is that, regardless of what fracking does to groundwater, the common practices of the industry — dumping wastewater, misting chemicals into the air, storing wastewater in unlined or poorly-lined tanks, and transporting waste in open trucks — are immediately and immensely harmful, and also avoidable.

How can we avoid contamination?  The good news is that this study is ongoing.  Michelle Bamberger wants to document  cases of toxicity in Texas specifically.  If you or anyone you know has experienced poisonings, spills, animal illness or death, please send her an email at

Reporting Spills

The Victoria Advocate reported that on Friday, February 17th, a driver swerved to miss a deer and overturned his truck at 5:30 in the morning.  He was trapped for over an hour before being taken to a hospital.  The Department of Public Safety is investigating the wreck, but there have been no further reports on clean-up of the oil.  This comes just weeks after another spill on Hwy 111 in DeWitt County.

With the huge number of heavy trucks moving through the EFS counties, this kind of accident is not a surprise.  It is crucial that spills be reported, and even more crucial that residents follow up to make sure that the problem has been addressed.  So here’s a short guide to reporting different kinds of spills in the state of Texas.

***TCEQ (Texas Commission on Environmental Quality) spill hotline is 1-800-832-8224. ***

Texas Dept of Public Safety – agency with responsibilities to secure transportation-related spill incident sites; coordinate with local jurisdictions to ensure state incident notification

Railroad Commission – agency for spills or discharges from the exploration, development, production, storage or pipeline transportation (excluding highway transport) of oil and gas

Texas Parks and Wildlife – agency responsible for protecting fish and wildlife by investigating fish kills and pollution.  Contact the Kills and Spills team if you see any violations relating to wildlife.

General Land Office – agency for crude oil spills that enter, or threaten to enter, coastal waters




Commercial Vehicle Enforcement Offices

hazmat watch

To report HazMat violations or reckless commercial vehicles, pay a visit to the TxDPS Locate a CVE Office site.

Find a city close to you in the drop-down menu, and the contact information will appear.

Here are some to keep on speed-dial:

ALICE 361-668-8296

DEL RIO 830-775-3569

DEVINE 830-665-8035

EAGLE PASS 830-757-4683

LAREDO 956-728-2251

RIVIERA 361-296-3391

SAN ANTONIO 210-531-2245

VICTORIA 361-575-2543

If you live in the Laredo area, you can also call (956) 795-2800 to report fracking spills and improper hauling of oil and gas waste.  Laredo has already had a few of these, so be on high alert.  This one-minute public service announcement has more information, courtesy of the Rio Grande International Study Center (RGISC), City of Laredo, and Safe Fracking Coalition (SFC).

KSAT 12 Reports, “Nothing to see here…”

My grandma called earlier.  She was excited to tell me she’d seen a fracking story on the evening news, having recently taken a strong interest in oil and gas industry goings-on as the operations creep closer to our land.  Like most people, she wanted to give this economic miracle the benefit of the doubt, but her opinion is changing, due in no small part to the rumors of earthquakes, spills, and excessive water use.

KSAT 12, published this article on fracking in Cuero today, ambivalently titled “Study: Fracking does not contaminate water/UT study: Fracking isn’t harmless.”

It opens with “The city of Cuero is thriving” and closes with “most said they are comfortable with the practice, and thankful for the economic boom it has provided,” has no link to the actual study or even a direct quote, and is probably less than 500 words long, which makes this article run-of-the-mill as Eagle Ford Shale coverage goes.  By far the most thoughtful, serious thing about it is the comments section.  A commenter named Paul Yarbles took the time to write out the conflicts of interest involved in the study, a list as long as the article itself.

A summary of the report, Separating Fact from Fiction in Shale Gas Development, can be found on the Energy Institute website, the gist of which is that, while actually hydraulically fracturing shale beneath the earth’s surface has not been definitively proven to harm water quality, surface spills and blowouts, events happening above ground which could be prevented by better oversight, are underreported and do “pose…risks to groundwater sources.”   Significant parts of the study point out “gaps” in regulation in well casing and wastewater disposal and call better spill prevention measures “urgent.”  The study also noted that “enforcement capacity is highly variable” between states.  This call for action is blithely ignored by KSAT.

Anybody paying attention has significant concerns about the effects of hydraulic fracturing, above and below ground.  When will these concerns be taken seriously?

Consorting in San Antonio

The “inaugural consortium” on “creating a sustainable pathway” through the economic explosion that is fracking in South Texas is coming to San Antonio.  The pre-conference is Feb. 29th, and will deal with “housing opportunities and challenges” in the EFS region.  The main conference will be March 1-2.  It costs $175 to attend, but if you don’t want to shell out for it, we will have coverage right here.

Topics include:

  • Workforce and Economic Development Opportunities
  • Strategies to Address Infrastructure Challenges – Housing and Roads
  • Education Related to Oil and Gas Industry and Technologies
  • Strategies to Create a Sustainable Future for Communities
  • Information and Best Practice Sharing

Hear it all from the horse’s mouth HERE.