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Trailer Talk's Frack Talk: Why a Mayor Was Forced to Leave His Town Because of Gas Drilling

Major Calvin Tillman left his beloved community of Dish, Texas (that has 60 gas wells) to protect his family from the dangers of natural gas drilling.

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But what you have is, you have five independently permitted sites, and they're all permitted under a "permit by rule" which means if you don't reach a certain emissions threshold, then you just fill out an application, send it into the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality, and they'll send you back a permit. And individually, each one of these sites qualify for that; however, collectively, they are well above it in some categories, and they're double the limit in a very key category, and that is volatile organic compounds. Volatile organic compounds are your BTEX chemicals -- your benzene, toluene, ethylbenzene, xylenes. Those are well-known carcinogens -- well-documented carcinogens.

So, the state has allowed them to install this right next to our community, and so there was an odor problem that was coming from this site, and we tried to get the state regulators to come out; we tried to get the operators to clean it up; and they refused for a long time. They refused to admit that they had any problems.

And then they came to me, and I believe it was actually headed up by Chesapeake Energy to do a study, and that really made me feel good, 'cause we had worked with them and tried to develop a reasonable relationship with them through this process, and they had told me that they were going to do an independent air study, and they were going to find the source of this odor.

And so, their idea of an independent comprehensive air study was that they put a gas detection unit in the back of a vehicle very similar to the one we're riding in right now, and drove around our town for a couple of hours, and then they declared that there was no problem. And so, not only did they assert that this was just a figment of our imagination, but they also tried to intentionally deceive us.

The trust was severed at that point, and we moved forward and we had our own independent air study done, and we're a very small town with a very small budget. But we spent 15% of that budget to perform an independent air study.

Artel: What is your total budget?

Tillman: $70,000, roughly.

Artel: So, roughly $70,000 budget, and you had to spend 15% of that for this own privately funded air quality study. So, what did that study determine?

Tillman: Well, it was always my assertion that there was gas leaking over on this site. And so, we did get methane. But the other things we got were something that I never could have imagined, and that was those carcinogens and neurotoxins. The most well-known thing that was detected was benzene, and it was detected at very elevated levels. There were some carcinogens that were well above the effect-screening levels some 100 times the effect-screening levels for long-term exposure.

Artel: And long-term exposure, we're talking cancers, right? I mean, these are endocrine disrupters. So, all kind of health issues have been noted with exposure to these carcinogens.

So, here you are, and you're being exposed to these potentially deadly chemicals. You're having to listen to this horrific noise 24 hours a day. Your town has had to spend 15% of their budget now to deal with these energy companies. So, so far it's not looking good, this picture, right?

What else? I notice there are other issues that you're dealing with. What about the animals in your town?

Tillman: Well, this compressor site was moved in right next to a horse ranch, and as this thing continued to grow, the owner of that horse ranch started to experience some problems with his horses. And so, he had a couple of horses that aborted their foals -- a couple of mares that aborted their foals. And he had a couple of other horses -- one of the horses went blind; another one had some neurological problems and had to be put down; and another one died of some respiratory problems, so I think that was five total.

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