Texas state official supports stronger environmental protections for oil and gas operations

The Commissioner of the Texas General Land Office, Jerry Patterson, oversees more than 20 million acres of state lands and mineral-right properties in Texas. According to a new Bloomberg/Business Week article, he supports stronger protections from the environmental harm caused by oil and gas production operations. That's right -- a prominent politician in Texas acknowledges that the industry needs to clean up its act.

I really recommend this article. It tells a powerful story about the lax regulation at the state level and the inability of the federal Environmental Protection Agency to fill the gap in protection. The article also profiles the Burns family. They have been fighting for years to clean up the toxic pollution on their Texas ranch--including benzene in their groundwater, radioactive soil, petroleum products oozing from pits that were buried on site, fumes eminating from the ground, and more.

The article reports that, in addition to active producing wells, there are "more than 100,000 old wells in Texas that haven’t been capped and thousands of defunct gas-processing plants, compressor stations and related equipment that have never been dismantled" -- meaning they could still be major sources of toxic pollution.

We know that the industry has the option of conducting its business in cleaner ways by controlling toxic waste in tanks intead of dumping it onto the ground, capturing hazardous air emissions instead of allowing them to vent into the air, minimizing the use of toxic chemicals, and more. There is a section on these solutions in our Drilling Down report. Unfortunately, it doesn't seem these practices will be adopted widely unless and until they are mandated by government.

In a previous blog post I linked to some videos taken by Elizabeth Burns. The Burns family could have walked away from the problems on their ranch. Instead they are suing Exxon-Mobil and Chevron, paying for testing of their land, water and air, documenting the evidence of contamination caused by this industry, and telling their story to help educate and protect others. They are one of many families around the country who are devoting the bulk of their free time and energy--their heart and soul--to fighting for their air, land, water and community. I am grateful to them all. Elizabeth Burns posts information, videos and more on her website.

Call me naïve, a socialist, a radical environmentalist, just old-fashioned, or what you will, but whatever happened to the idea that we should do unto others as we would have them do unto us? That preventing harm from our own actions is a good thing, and that we should clean up our own messes. Does someone at Exxon-Mobil really think that it can't spare some of the $19 billion it made in profits last year to keep communities and families safe from its own pollution?