Community Pushes Back Against Gas Drilling Near Daycare

City, Featured

A natural gas well behind residential neighborhood. | Image from Sonia Shjegstad

A community in Arlington has been pushing natural gas drilling out of their backyards but French company Total Energies plans to place three new wells nearby, the Associated Press reports.

Despite operating in Arlington for some time, Total Energies has received backlash from the Mother’s Heart Learning Center, a daycare packed daily with children.

The three new natural gas wells would be built 600 feet away from the daycare, making parents concerned about possible health risks associated with the drilling. According to the American Public Health Department, wastewater from drilling for natural gas can release carcinogens such as “silica, benzene, lead, ethylene glycol, methanol, boric acid, and gamma-emitting isotopes.”

Studies show that extended exposure to carcinogens like benzene such as those emitted by natural gas drilling can heighten the risk for cancer and neurological problems.

“I’m trying to protect my little one,” one parent said, who sends her two-year-old to Mother’s Heart. California has imposed a law forcing gas wells to be drilled at least 3,200 feet away from any school or residence.

Community members also accuse Total Energies of purposefully seeking out low-income neighborhoods for their wells.

“The dirty industries, and what planners call locally unwanted land uses, oftentimes followed the path of least resistance. Historically, that’s been poor communities and communities of color,” says Robert Bullard, director of the Bullard Center for Environmental and Climate Justice.

The Associated Press conducted a study that shows Total Energies drilling natural gas wells disproportionally more in communities primarily made up of people of color.

Total Energies says they are “comfortable” in how they conduct drilling next to residents, and their locations are solely “driven by geological data.”

Some Arlington residents collect a royalty from Total when wells are situated on their land and benefit some, like Jan Porter, a nearby Baptist church elder.

“It’s enabled us to do ministries that we might not have been able to do,” he stated.

On November 30, the Arlington City Council approved Total Energies’ new well placements by a tight vote. Total Energies project was rejected by the city council last year, but with new members, a 5-4 vote this year decided the fate of the well’s location.

A 2018 study in Colorado, showed a extremely low risk for people in close proximity to gas wells. As reported by KUNC, “if a person stayed in one location for their entire life, breathing in the highest simulated levels of air pollutants from oil and gas operations, their chance of getting cancer from benzene would be at most 36 in a million.”

Tami McMullin, a toxicologist who led the study said, “In other words, a person in the U.S. is nearly twice as likely to be struck by lightning than he or she is to get cancer from benzene near […] oil and gas wells.”

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