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Wednesday, July 27, 2016

Are Frac Ponds a Public Health Threat?

Chesapeake Energy Frac Pond located at the Fulson Drill Site 
Southeast Arlington, TX
Photograph taken by Fish Creek Monitor on 7-26-2016

Vector Disease Control International conducted round two of targeted ground spraying throughout Fish Creek neighborhood this week.  They applied the first round of a synthetic permethrin insecticidal product manufactured by Bayer the week of July 5th, but on July 22nd another mosquito tested positive for West Nile virus.

Looks like they missed the target.

A single bite from one of these tiny winged insects can produce devastating disease.  Because we noticed such a proliferation of mosquitoes since the installation of the frac pond in our community ~ and since mosquitoes have the ability to travel anywhere from 300 feet to 100 miles depending on the breed ~ we asked the City if they require gas operators to implement any sort of mosquito control program for their frac ponds.

We learned that the City of Arlington does require gas operators to treat their frac ponds with mosquito dunks, but verification of compliance is questionable at best.  There is really no way to confirm whether or not the mosquito pellets [sic] that Chesapeake applies to their pond are working to keep the mosquito population at bay. 

According to a Gas Well Specialist with the City of Arlington, this is how compliance works:  
"We (the City) go by their (Chesapeake's) word. They've been pretty honest about the things they do."
 So, how do we know if the pellets are actually working to prevent mosquitoes from breeding in these ponds?  We don't.  The City does not place mosquito traps on gas operators' private property.

Since it is possible that frac ponds might be contributing to mosquito-borne illness, why not require operators to fill them in with dirt?  Chesapeake hasn't drilled any new wells at the Fulson Site since 2012, so there is no need for a pond at this time.  This would be a legitimate request by citizens to ask of their council representatives. Why take the chance of even one person contracting the West Nile or Zika virus?  In the early days of mineral lease signing, landmen pitched the idea that frac ponds would be amenities to the community.  Now people know better.

 Ban the frac ponds.

Doing away with frac ponds in city limits could actually be a win-win for everyone.  It was done at Chesapeake's Rocking Horse Drill Site back in 2012.   Gas operators would still be able to access water for fracking through the installation of above-ground frac tanks/pools which can be easily taken down after completion of a gas well.  XTO, in fact, uses them on a regular basis. Ridding the city of these stagnant man-made reservoirs which waste acreage would not only free up land for future development, but would eliminate a potential breeding habitat for mosquitoes.  

In 2015 fossil fuel advocates influenced the Texas Legislature to pass HB40.  This bill essentially strips away local control from municipalities to regulate fracking with some exceptions such as truck traffic, noise, and setbacks to some degree as long as these restrictions are "commercially reasonable" for the operator.  However, this bill does not specifically address frac ponds.  Since operators could still gain access to an alternative water source, it would seem reasonable that Arlington, a home rule city, could be a role model for other nearby communities by shoring up its ordinance to address this potential public health threat of mosquito-borne illness.  

Our State's overreach of HB40 may have banned fracking bans, but it doesn't specifically prohibit the banning of  frac ponds. Because of the number of cases of  mosquito-borne illnesses in North Texas, this may be a subject worth thinking about.  

In case you missed Chesapeake's Big Boy, click here to meet him.