Study indicating Texas does not respond to carcinogenic effects of gas industry leads to new study by the state

Christina Breitbeil

Despite state research showing that emissions from oil drilling processes include carcinogens, Texas heath and environmental agencies did not immediately react with heightened regulations or investigations of the emissions’ health effects, according to architecture senior lecturer Rachael Rawlins’ research. 

Rawlins’ research, which was published in the Virginia Environmental Law Journal, is an analysis of the state’s data regarding the effects of the gas industry. The research confirmed with 95 percent certainty that rates of childhood leukemia and non-Hodgkins lymphoma in Flower Mound, Texas, where hydraulic fracturing operations are currently taking place, were significantly higher than expected, and there is only a one in 20 chance that the difference is random.

At an April 7 town hall Meeting in Flower Mound, Mayor Tom Hayden announced there will be a new study conducted by the Texas Department of State Health Services focusing on the cancer-causing effects of the gas industry.

Rawlins said the study demonstrates the need for improved research by health and environmental agencies of the possibly harmful health effects from gas industry emissions.

“Even though the state acknowledged that gas industry emissions include benzene, a carcinogen known to be associated with leukemia and non-Hodgkins lymphoma, it did not set up a study to carefully assess the location and timing of cancer cases in relation to the location and timing of gas industry operations in Flower Mound,” Rawlins said. “Even when the state confirmed significantly increased breast cancer rates with 99 percent certainty, it was quick to dismiss the possibility of an association with hazardous air pollution.”

In a statement following the publishing of Rawlins’ research, Flower Mound’s town manager Jimmy Stathatos said the city was not notified by the state of the high rates of childhood cancer.

“Unfortunately, the town was not made aware of the new findings until a news article was released,” Stathatos said in the statement. “Therefore, we are working to understand the reanalysis of the data as quickly as possible.” 

Ian Duncan, program director for the Earth Systems and Environment group at the University’s Bureau of Economic Geology, said the toxins resulting from drilling operations are not enough to affect the health of those in the area.

“The main cancer-causing toxin in shale gas is benzene,” Duncan said. “All the best evidence is that the benzene levels experienced by the general public and attributable to shale gas development in Fort Worth and surrounding areas, is approximately an order of magnitude less that the level of concern for long term exposures.”

Biology sophomore Wills Myer, who is from Tatum, a small town in East Texas, said the fracking operation in his town has reacted to health concerns voiced by citizens, not the state government.

“It’s a huge plant that processes and dries differing grades of sand, which are then sold and sent to oil companies,” Myer said. “I don’t personally know any children in Tatum that have cancer as of now. Now, when selling the sand, there were concerns about dust control in other cities, but as a result of that the company has developed and patented a frack sand dust control system that is sold nationwide and used extensively.”