New report: TX communities exposed to radioactive, toxic oil and gas waste

Analysis concludes that risks posed by waste in Texas can be mitigated by closing loopholes and shifting power to those who bear the brunt of pollution.

May 5th, 2021: Today, Earthworks released Wasted in the Lone Star State: The impacts of toxic oil and gas waste in Texas, an analysis of the risks to Texans posed by oil and gas waste disposal and policy recommendations to address them. Earthworks and FracTracker Alliance also released an interactive map of all commercial oil and gas surface waste facilities permitted by the Texas Railroad Commission.

Hazardous oil and gas waste is specifically exempt from federal hazardous waste law under the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA)  — even though it can be toxic and radioactive. Texas state law allows the same exemption and requires communities to host unwanted, potentially harmful waste disposal facilities

Less than a week after sending the Blackthorn Environmental oil and gas disposal facility a Notice of Violation, the Texas Railroad Commission re-approved the facility’s permit despite knowing that the facility could be threatening neighbors’ health. RRC Commissioner and Orange Grove resident Jim Wright voted in favor of Blackhorn’s permit in spite of his fellow residents’ pleas. Commissioner Wright is also a partial owner of waste hauling companies that use the Blackhorn facility.

In addition to underground injection wells and waste pits, there are 105 commercial surface waste facilities permitted by the Texas Railroad Commission (RRC) to process, store, and dispose of oil and gas waste, which can contain harmful contaminants including carcinogenic radioactive material, heavy metals, and fracking chemicals. FracTracker Alliance mapped these facilities, including the Blackhorn Environmental site in Orange Grove.

—- Quotes —-

“Texas law must change to treat oil and gas waste as the hazardous, radioactive material it can be. Communities should have the right to say ‘no’ to toxic waste disposal, too.” — Melissa Troutman, Wasted in the Lone Star State author

“My family was sickened by waste at Blackhorn Environmental, but Texas renewed its permit anyway. The state is ignoring oil and gas waste’s impacts on our health.” — Orange Grove, TX resident Tara Jones

“Oil and gas waste poses serious threats to human health, and more frequent extreme weather events like flooding and freezing make surface disposal of this hazardous waste increasingly dangerous. It’s high time state leaders take communities’ concerns seriously.” — Shannon Smith, Communications Manager, FracTracker Alliance

“Fossil fuel companies can’t compete in the modern energy economy. Hiding their toxic waste is just another way they con Texans to stay in business. Let’s demand better from an industry that has taken so much from our state.”  — Adrian Shelley, Director of Public Citizen’s Texas office

“In 2017, Liveable Arlington had to mobilize to stop a wastewater injection well next to a lake which supplied water to our county, after the well was administratively approved by the Railroad Commission endangering the drinking water of half a million Texans. Lax oil and gas waste regulation in Texas continues to threaten our community, and we support all the recommendations made in this report.” — Ranjana Bhandari of Liveable Arlington

“Texas laws and rules are a confusing hodgepodge of requirements that are filled with loopholes and limited enforcement by the Railroad Commission and Texas Commission on Environmental Quality. We are particularly concerned by loopholes that are leading to hazardous and radioactive waste impacting communities, and the threat of direct wastewater discharges of fracked wastewater in West Texas, approved by Trump’s EPA just days before he left office. We must end these dangerous loopholes.” — Cyrus Reed, Conservation Director of the Lone Star Chapter

“Indivisible TX Lege stands with Texans and our communities impacted by highly toxic waste from the oil and gas industry. Community protection from pollution is best achieved when communities are empowered and have a say about projects located in their jurisdictions.” — Heiko Stang of Indivisible Tx Lege

“The Texas Railroad Commission has never in the history of its permitting authority denied a permit to drill despite the mounting evidence that the severe adverse effects of all oil and gas processes, from the extraction to utilization and disposal, significantly outweigh literally any benefits it brings. Quite frankly, the oil and gas industry operates in a seemingly lawless state when it comes to their activities, so what is even the point of the Texas Railroad Commission in their case? Absolutely useless. Ban drilling, ban fracking. Sunset the Texas Railroad Commission.” — Crystal Moran, Co-Founder of Frontera Water Protectors

“Air pollution is only half the battle when it comes to the horrors of Texas oil and gas, we are also fighting the battle of waste. It’s up to climate movements to stay vigilant about waste, because as this report demonstrates, the Texas government is failing miserably. Communities deserve health, autonomy, and an end to oil and gas.” — Angel Ulloa, HUB Coordinator, Sunrise Movement El Paso 


For More Information

Wasted in the Lone Star State

FracTracker Alliance interactive map of all commercial oil and gas surface waste facilities permitted by the Texas Railroad Commission

Press release

Endorsing Organizations:

  • CENT (Clean Energy Now Texas)
  • Environment Texas
  • FracTracker Alliance
  • Frontera Water Protectors
  • Honor the Earth
  • Indivisible Tx Lege
  • Livable Arlington
  • Lone Star Chapter of the Sierra Club
  • Public Citizen – Texas Office
  • Sunrise El Paso
  • Surfriders Coastal Bend