5yr investigation shows TX regulators ignore public oil & gas pollution complaints, work closely with polluters

Oct 21 –– A five year investigation released today — Loud and Clear: what public regulation complaints reveal about Texas’ oversight of oil and gas pollution and whom it serves — shows that the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ) has not responded to 45% of public complaints filed regarding oil and gas air pollution. Released by the environmental organization Earthworks and endorsed by 17 other organizations, the investigation also shows the public complaint system is effectively impossible for the public to use.

Since 2015, Earthworks made 63 trips to 25 Texas counties to film oil and gas pollution — 619 visits to 298 wells, compressor stations, and processing plants — and filed 141 regulatory complaints (136 with TCEQ and 5 with the Texas Railroad Commission) supported by optical gas imaging video of otherwise invisible air pollution — methane and toxic volatile organic compounds (VOCs) such as benzene.

Of those 141 complaints, only 17 (12%) resulted in regulators acting to reduce pollution. 64 (45%) have not resulted in any action to date that is available to the public through TCEQ’s complaint tracking database or through Public Information Requests.

In addition to failure to act on complaints, Loud and Clear found that:

  • TCEQ regularly takes months to respond to complaints of pollution (meaning the pollution can and often does continue in the meantime);
  • TCEQ has no requirements for inspectors and other staff to respond to complainants;
  • Public Information Requests — with associated administrative fees — are required to determine how complaints are handled;
  • TCEQ has two databases to track complaints: one for regulators and polluters that is quickly updated, and a separate one for the public that is slowly updated, when it is at all.

“It’s not surprising to Texans that state law favors the oil and gas industry. What should be a surprise is that Texas regulators charged with protecting the public often can’t be bothered to enforce what laws do exist. It seems the only way to protect Texans from oil and gas pollution is to stop permitting new oil and gas operations.” — Sharon Wilson, Earthworks’ certified optical gas imaging thermographer, TX Loud and Clear co-author, and the site inspector who filed the complaints on which the report was based.

“The TCEQ process for investigating and punishing companies for air emissions, venting and leaks is slow, opaque, and weighted toward protecting industry interests. In a decade of urban drilling next to homes and schools in Arlington it has done absolutely nothing to curb emissions and keep Arlington residents safe from the worst harms of exposure to gas drilling.” — Ranjana Bhandari of Liveable Arlington

“It’s all connected water, air and land but the colonist mentality tries to separate and dismiss these as critical infrastructures. TECQ needs to flex its muscle to control air, water and land. It’s all polluted. It’s a direct attack on the Native Citizens as this is against the autochthonous people of the land and their right to protect their culture.” — Juan Mancias, Carrizo Comecrudo Tribe of Texas Tribal Member

“It’s time for the TRRC and TCEQ to become more attentive to the public than the oil the gas industry. This report lays out a strong argument that improvements are greatly needed in transparency, permitting and enforcement.” — Errol Summerlin, Co-founder, CAPE

“El Paso’s air quality has been jeopardized by years of industry polluting with little to no repercussions for violations, taking advantage of vulnerable communities -and now- in a time when covid-19 has deadly and disastrous effects specifically in communities like Barrio Chamizal.” — Cemelli de Aztlan, Equal Voice Network

“TCEQ is not structured to bring justice to the residents, instead they help protect the companies rather than families, targeting low income, immigrant communities because to them we are disposable. These processes are designed that way,  and it’s part of the hidden systemic discrtimination in El Paso and all around Texas where there are immigrant communities like ours.” — Hilda Villegas, Familias Unidas del Chamizal

“Since the beginning of these investigations and scientific research on fracking, all it has done is confirm what common sense clearly screamed- fracking is extremely toxic and lethal to the existence of humans, plants, wildlife, and Earth and the elements. With such deadly volatile chemicals used to frack, when would one in their right mind ever think that there would be even one scientific study or investigation that would result in positive outcomes and benefits for any life form, including the planet? Question now is, when are they going to listen?” – Crystal Moran, Frontera Water Protectors, Co-founder 

“Those hoarding power to prop up their fossil fuel based profiteering don’t want people to know the truth. “Loud and Clear” is a needed roadmap showing how frightfully off course we are and a megaphone for and by the most impacted people leading the way amidst escalating climate crisis. Too much is at stake to not pay attention to local voices and facts.” — Janet MacGillivray, Seeding Sovereignty Esq. Founder/Executive Director

“TCEQ, or the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality, has continued to fail the El Paso community by not accurately reporting our air quality’s standards. For years, El Pasoans have endured smelter towers, refineries, recycling plants, as well as heavy traffic affecting our air quality….We are not fooled and Sunrise EP are doing everything we can to ensure a healthier and safer future for El Paso.” — Andrew Torres, Sunrise El Paso organizer 

For More Information:

Endorsing Organizations:

  • Carrizo Comecrudo Tribe of Texas
  • Coastal Alliance for Protection of our Environment
  • Equal Voice Network
  • Familias Unidas de Chamizal
  • Frontera Water Protectors
  • Healthy Gulf
  • Liveable Arlington
  • Texas NAACP
  • Publish What You Pay US
  • Seeding Sovereignty
  • Sierra Club – Lone Star Chapter
  • Society of Native Nations
  • Sunrise Movement – Austin
  • Sunrise Movement – El Paso
  • Rise St. James
  • Save RGV