Fueling dissent: how the oil industry set out to undercut clean air

On sunny days, when his classmates run out to play, Gabriel Rosales heads to the school nurse for a dose of Albuterol.

The fine mist opens his airways, relaxing the muscles in his chest. Without it, recess could leave the nine-year-old gasping for breath. He gets a second dose at the end of the day before heading home from St John Bosco Elementary School, in San Antonio, Texas.

Over the past year, Gabriel’s asthma has worsened. Visits to the emergency room, shortened trips to the park and reliance on inhalers have become his new norm. “It got to the point where I couldn’t even leave him with anybody,” said his father, Gabe, who works as a consultant to the National Association of Public Employees, a workers’ advocacy group, and a seasonal field director of the Bexar County Democratic Party. “One time he almost looked blue.”

Gabriel’s health is deteriorating alongside air quality in San Antonio, where oil and gas development, a hotter climate and a growing population have combined to spell misery for a city that once boasted clean air compared to other Texas metropolitan areas. Part of the problem lies southeast of the city in the Eagle Ford Shale,a 400-mile-long hub of hydraulic fracturing that unleashes microscopic particles and smog-causing, ground-level ozone.

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What is fracking and should we be afraid of it?

Fracking is short for hydraulic fracturing which is a way of getting fossil fuels out of the ground. However, unlike a traditional oil well the oil and gas deposits are found in small bubbles deep below the earth in rock formations. In order to access all these deposits in one go using a drilling derrick, the fracking operation will normally drill down first and then sideways through the strata.

Frack fluid

Next, a highly pressurised liquid known as frack fluid’ is forced down the pipe that forces the rock around the bore to fracture. The oil or natural gas then escapes into the bore where it can be pumped back to the surface.

So, why should we be concerned about it?

It is the environment impact of fracking that causes concern. The biggest concern is with the fracking fluid itself, given that this contains a mixture of water, chemicals, such as solvents, biocides and corrosion inhibitors as well as solid particles – typically sand. Many of us are worried about this fluid seeping into the groundwater and contaminating the local water supply. Moreover, the process can use up to 8 million litres of fresh water, which is the equivalent daily consumption of a mid-sized small town.


  • About 87% of the fracking done worldwide in 2011 was in North America e.g the Bakken Shale in North Dakota, the Marcellus Shale that spreads through New York and Pennsylvania,
  • Environmentalists and advocates against fracking say that local drinking water becomes contaminated either because there is natural gas in it or due to the frack fluid
  • In the US companies are not required by law to state what is the composition of the frack fluids they use as it could put their business models at risk

Some videos to view:

What exactly is fracking, and should we be scared of it?

RT UK: Fracking is the process of drilling into the earth before a high-pressure water mixture is directed at the rock to release the oil or gas inside. Water, sand, and chemicals are injected into the rock at high pressure which allows the oil or gas to flow out to the head of the well.

Fracking Hell: The Untold Story

An original investigative report by Earth Focus and UK’s Ecologist Film Unit looks at the risks of natural gas development in the Marcellus Shale. From toxic chemicals in drinking water to unregulated interstate dumping of potentially radioactive waste that experts fear can contaminate water supplies in major population centers including New York City, are the health consequences worth the economic gains?

Marcellus Shale contains enough natural gas to supply all US gas needs for 14 years. But as gas drilling takes place, using a process called hydraulic fracturing or “fracking,” toxic chemicals and methane gas seep into drinking water. Now experts fear that unacceptable levels of radioactive Radium 226 in gas development waste.

Fracking chemicals are linked to bone, liver and breast cancers, gastrointestinal, circulatory, respiratory, developmental as well as brain and nervous system disorders. Such chemicals are present in frack waste and may find their way into drinking water and air.

Waste from Pennsylvania gas wells — waste that may also contain unacceptable levels of radium — is routinely dumped across state lines into landfills in New York, Ohio and West Virginia. New York does not require testing waste for radioactivity prior to dumping or treatment. So drill cuttings from Pennsylvania have been dumped in New York’s Chemung and other counties and liquid waste is shipped to treatment plants in Auburn and Watertown New York. How radioactive is this waste? Experts are calling are for testing to find out. New York State may have been the first state in the nation to put a temporary hold on fracking pending a safety review, but it allows other states to dump toxic frack waste within its boundaries.

With a gas production boom underway in the Marcellus Shale and plans for some 400,000 wells in the coming decades, the cumulative impact of dumping potential lethal waste without adequate oversight is a catastrophe waiting to happen. And now U.S. companies are exporting fracking to Europe.

Fracking: The real cost of shale in Texas | Guardian Investigations

In north Texas, the pumping heart of the oil and gas industry, an energy company are drilling five wells for fracking behind Veronica Kronvall’s home.