Workshops on reporting problems set for Eagle Ford

Texas has a web of state agencies that can respond to complaints about potential problems in the oil field. Do you know which one to call?

The Laredo-based nonprofit Rio Grande International Study Center and the Environmental Defense Fund plan five free workshops in the Eagle Ford Shale region to teach residents and workers what to do if they have concerns about oil and gas development.

The events will cover how and where to report suspected contamination, workplace hazards and navigating various state agencies. They also will include information for landowners about baseline water quality tests and water monitoring.

The events are among the first of their kind in the region and are meant to help demystify oil and gas development as well as the various agencies that monitor the industry, said Trisha Cortez, executive director of the Rio Grande International Study Center.

The first workshop is in Cotulla on Thursday, but the groups will also hold “Neighbors of Oil & Gas” events in Carrizo Springs, Kenedy, Cuero and Botines near Laredo. Sessions at all locations will be offered in English and in Spanish.

The Rio Grande International Study Center focuses on water supply, contamination and pollution issues with the Rio Grande, but first got involved with the Eagle Ford in 2011.

The Eagle Ford Shale discovery well was drilled in the fall of 2008, but the field has become one of the most rapidly developed oil fields in the world. It stretches across 26 counties, from Webb and Maverick counties on the U.S.-Mexico border to the eastern edge near College Station area.

“The Eagle Ford Shale was the new kid on the block, so we were looking at what had happened in other places in the Marcellus and the Barnett and the Bakken (shale fields),” Cortez said. “What were risks there? We wanted to educate the people in the Laredo and Webb County area to be very familiar with the shale play. What are the health risks involved? How do we avoid those problems that other people have faced?”

One initial problem that people complained about in Laredo had to do with the disposal of flowback, the contaminated water that comes back up a well after hydraulic fracturing. “They were bringing it into Laredo in open top dump trucks,” Cortez said. “Anytime they pressed the brakes we had spills. A lot of that material is toxic. The storm drains go straight to the river.”

The group organized a few town hall events as well a series of public service announcements in cooperation with the Texas Department of Public Safety and the local county and district attorney’s offices.

Alberto Sandoval, project coordinator with the Rio Grande International Study Center, said that the Texas Railroad Commission does not have enough inspectors, which makes it important for average people to understand and report potential problems.

“The state has one inspector to more than 2000 wells. You might think a certain thing about that. I might think a certain thing about that. If we can inform the public what sort of incident to observe and where to report, it can help an investigation happen quicker. We can make the process more efficient,” Sandoval said. “If citizens can observe their surroundings and respond appropriately, they can help safeguard their community.”

Details on the Neighbors of Oil & Gas meetings:

La Salle County
Thursday:6 p.m. Spanish, 7:30 p.m. English
La Salle County Emergency Operations Center, 247 Mars Drive, Cotulla

Dimmit County
July 20: 1 p.m. Spanish, 2:30 p.m. English
Carrizo Springs Civic Center, 405 N. 7th St., Carrizo Springs

Karnes County
July 27: 3 p.m. Spanish, 4:30 p.m. English
Karnes County City Hall, 303 W. Main St., Kenedy

DeWitt County
Aug. 2: 12:30 p.m. Spanish, 2 p.m. English
Chisholm Trail Heritage Museum, 302 N. Esplanade St., Cuero

Webb County
Aug. 9: 12 p.m. Spanish, 1:30 p.m. English
Long Branch Saloon, 15811 U.S. 83, Botines