Oil Spills in Waterways Hidden by Texas Officials

“In some emails Railroad Commission staff (has been) acknowledging that spills are taking place and they don’t have a handle on what’s happening to that oil once it leaves the production site.”

By Rhonda FanningAugust 15, 2016 2:01 pm|

In a state prone to drought, rain is normally a good thing, unless it mixes with oil and chemicals. After last spring’s floods, the Texas Wing Civil Air Patrol took some overhead pictures that showed – in addition to the obvious flooding – there were odd, discolored pools of liquid in and around sites for oil and gas extraction, some of the leakage has escaped toward Houston. After the El Paso Times started reporting what appeared to be massive oil spills triggered by the rains, the public photos disappeared.

The Department of Public Safety ordered the photos removed, citing concerns that dead bodies in the photos might be posted online before the next of kin could be notified. One problem: There were no dead bodies in the picture. After the El Paso Times pressed the state, with the help of state Sen. José Rodríguez, the photos are coming out.

El Paso Times reporter Marty Schladen, who’s been following this story, says the Railroad Commission, which oversees the oil and gas industry in Texas, hasn’t been forthcoming from the outset.

“They’ve been responding, but unfortunately, the responses are boilerplate,” Schladen says.

He says the latest response he’s gotten came only after Rodríguez put in an information request and then shared the documents with Schladen. The Railroad Commission gave the senator a huge volume of documents, which included emails, reports and photos. But it’s a bit of a jumble, Schladen says.

“It would appear that in some instances they know next-to-nothing,” he says.

Schladen says the commission has a responsibility to disclose the oil spill information to the public. In fact, they maintain an oil spill database.

“So far I continue to find spills that are reported in one place, and the Railroad Commission records, that never show up in their database,” Schladen says.

Schladen’s been told that it’s due to a lack of resources. The Sunset Review Commission – which monitors governmental organization for their efficiency and operations – has repeatedly called the Railroad Commission out for not keeping adequate records of spills, Schladen says.

“What we’ve seen is in some emails Railroad Commission staff acknowledging that spills are taking place and they don’t have a handle on what’s happening to that oil once it leaves the production site,” Schladen says.

He says the commission has yet to directly respond to Schladen’s pressure.

“They just reassured the public that they’re acting adequately to protect it,” Schladen says.

Post by Beth Cortez-Neavel.