Hydraulic fracturing of land to extract oil and natural gas, or “fracking,” in Texas is making big money, but also big waste, according to this multimedia article at Inside Climate News online. Residents of South Texas where the productive Eagle Ford Shale deposit is bringing in more and more energy, drilling, and fracking companies by the week, have reported that the harmful byproducts and fracking waste can be detrimental to their personal health, as well as the health of their property. But even using the best oil and gas lawyers in Texas to fight big companies like Exxon Mobile or Apache doesn’t guarantee a promising result, as some plaintiffs at court have already experienced. Now one sheriff is taking a different angle.
Deputy Sheriff Hector Zertuche “is the law when it comes to the illegal dumping of drilling waste” in part of the Eagle Ford Shale in Texas. The area’s environmental crimes officer reports that he “commonly saw 100 trucks or more hauling oil and gas waste into his county,” and that the fracking bypdroduct, misleadingly called “salt water” by industry insiders, would end up on roadways or in fields. The “salt water” that fracking companies should be pumping back into the ground or taking it to a landfill according to their promised practices actually looks like black sludge, and photos of it can be seen at Inside Climate News. Whether the sludge is dumped accidentally or intentionally remains unclear, but Zertuche has taken it upon himself to issue citations for these lawbreakers, saying “I want to make a difference for the people who live here.”
Oil and gas lawyers in Texas like Michael Hancock should be familiar with Zertuche’s citations, as they utilize “a section of the state’s Water Code called the Texas Oil and Gas Haulers Act” to impose fines of $1,000 and up to ten days in jail for each violation. Most of the drivers cited by Zertuche don’t end up hiring a lawyer, though, and have their employers write a check for the fine “rather than challenge the deputy.” Zertuche had originally gone to the Texas Railroad Commission, the state’s oil and gas waste regulator, but they were too slow to act, with investigations that took months and even years to complete.
The state’s water code covers everything from spilling waste to not having proper disposal permits, oil and gas lawyers in Texas like Hancock say. And while the multitude of $1,000 fines that Zertuche is issuing isn’t likely to have that much of a collective impact on the fracking companies’ waste disposal procedures, the sheriff hopes that the revenue will provide the county with needed funds to combat the influx of crime and drugs that the energy business is bringing with it. Despite his success, Zertuche is reporting that neighboring counties “have been slow to follow” his lead.
But his efforts do seem to be making somewhat of a difference: drivers report to Zertuche that they’ve “been warned to be careful when they enter his jurisdiction.” Some battles against the big energy companies aren’t fought only by the oil and gas lawyers in Texas, but by one man and a ticket book.