My short bio:

Hi Reddit! I am Lisa Song, an InsideClimate News reporter that covers oil sands/tar sands (and helped our publication win a Pulitzer last year), pipelines and natural gas drilling. But as of late, I’ve gravitated to fracking full time. I just spent 8 months investigating the public health consequences of oil and gas industry sprawl in Texas. Working with the Center for Public Integrity and The Weather Channel, InsideClimate News recently published the results on Tuesday. The project, called “Fracking the Eagle Ford Shale: Big Oil & Bad Air on the Texas Prairie,” reveals that as oil and gas booms in South Texas, legislators and regulators there are often more intent on protecting the industry than residents who fear for their health from the air they breathe. I am especially excited to talk about the project today--the obstacles, the people, the policies, the investigative research. Ask me anything!

For More background:

You can read the main story here:

You can watch the documentary here:

My Proof:

I’ll start answering questions at 1 PM and keep goin’ until 2 PM.

EDIT: I'll be signing off in 5 min. EDIT: I'm heading out. Thanks for the questions!

Comments: 97 • Responses: 18  • Date: 

mcvoid116 karma

1) Just how bad is the environmental situation with fracking? Is it really as bad as the environmentalist special interest groups claim, or is it as safe as the oil companies claim, or is it in between or even worse?

2) There is a minor fault line running through Texas- does that change the situation compared to other parts of the country involved in fracking?

lisasong13 karma

1) I don't think we can answer that until we have more monitoring and research--which is what scientists and public health officials have pushed for for years. But in the Eagle Ford, the state recorded ~300 complaints from local residents since Jan 2010 related to oil/gas development. And out of those complaints, regulators issued 164 notices of violation (as of Nov. 19).

2) We didn't look into earthquakes/wastewater injection.

MurrayPhilbman11 karma

Do you consider a hamburger to be a type of sandwich, or an entity of its own?

lisasong14 karma

Definitely a sandwich. But I'm vegetarian, so don't trust my judgment. (We'll investigate the hamburger conundrum in our next project).

schoshdiver8 karma

Did you get any resistance in doing your research? By that i mean did anybody from the oil/gas/fracking industry try to keep information from you? Or did they try to block your investigation? If yes, how?

lisasong15 karma

We made numerous requests with both individual oil/gas development companies as well as with organizations representing the industry in Texas for information. By and large we got no response. We asked for tours of oil/gas facilities so that we could understand the drilling/fracking/processing techniques in the field. All were declined. Only a few industry representatives agreed to phone interviews--most asked for questions in writing.

GooLuster8 karma

Hi there!

Can you give me idea of the obstacles you faced?

lisasong18 karma

The biggest obstacle: Texas operators and regulators wouldn't grant us face-to-face interviews, and made us put most of our questions in writing. Being forced to put questions in writing is bad for journalism--it doesn't allow for give and take or the natural flow of conversation--something that's crucial for complex subjects like public health, science, regulations.

TKNOSS6 karma

Lisa, can you talk about how local and state jurisdictions come into play when it comes to approving fracking operations? In other words, about how many officials/agencies/private entities in Texas sign off on any given shale project?

lisasong11 karma

The state controls drilling permits and air quality, but local jurisdictions have some control. It all depends on where you are. Dallas won't allow drilling within 1,500 feet of homes, schools, etc. Counties like Karnes, La Salle and McMullen in the Eagle Ford don't have those same protections.

lebartarian4 karma

Hi Lisa,

Thanks for doing the AMA. What do you think is the best way to affect public perception of fracking? Is apathy or misinformation the biggest obstacle?


lisasong7 karma

I think the biggest obstacle is lack of information. The secrecy surrounding fracking chemicals is well-known. In our investigation, we found that Texas knows very little about the air quality in the Eagle Ford, so residents aren't getting the answers they need. A lot of scientists/health experts are pushing for better monitoring and research in places with drilling.

drangundsturm4 karma

Is the state of Texas more concerned with protect its citizens, or the oil and gas industry?

lisasong11 karma

We talked with sources both supportive and critical of the industry and Texas regulators. Critics made arguments that the state is a cheerleader for the industry and fails in its responsibility to protect people. A Texas Tech University political science professor told us health issues faced by people who live in drilling areas—not just in Texas but throughout the United States—simply don’t carry enough weight to counterbalance the financial benefits derived from oil and gas development. State regulators defended their record by saying they are proactive in monitoring emissions from the industry and have regulations in place that ensure the public is protected.

drangundsturm2 karma

Judging by your verification pic, that is one antiseptically clean office you are posting from. I thought journalism was a messy business.

Where's the pizza boxes? Where's the whiskey bottles?

lisasong4 karma

I have candy wrappers under my desk, hidden from view. Does that count?

Rizzoriginal2 karma

Can you publish the known chemicals that fracking uses?

lisasong4 karma

There are hundreds of them. I don't know of a comprehensive list. Some are VOCs, acids, cleaning chemicals, etc. Methanol is one of the more toxic ones. BTEX too--benzene, toluene, ethylbenzene, xylene.

FracFocus has a list of some of the chemicals. The website is a place where companies voluntarily disclose chemicals that they use.

Many are chemicals that the industry claims are proprietary, so they don't disclose them.

OliParker2 karma

Are there precautions that these fracking companies are taking? I would imagine there are some sort of regulations put in place? There is a big push for it here in Wisconsin and there are many people for it (jobs) but many against it.

lisasong5 karma

The regulations vary dramatically from state to state. Colorado has some of the strongest air regulations. The EPA has federal regulations on using "green completions" to reduce emissions during fracking, but they only apply to natural gas wells starting Jan. 2015. Since most of the wells in the Eagle Ford are oil wells (that also produce natural gas), it won't apply there. There are also voluntary things companies can do to reduce pollution--building pipelines to reduce flaring, for example. The voluntary measures depend on the company and what they choose to do at each site.

GFLakeGasWatch2 karma

Would you say that Texas allows more lax regulations in the Eagle Ford compared to the Barnett due to population density?

From an outsider point of view it appears that TRRC has taken an "whatever it takes to get it done cheapest" approach and gives industry exactly what they want.

lisasong2 karma

The population density is one factor, but not the only one. Our research shows the demographic differences are also important--people in the Eagle Ford have fewer resources and less political power than residents in the Barnett. In the words of a former regulator quoted in the story, "Let's be blunt. That is not really a body of voters that the power structure in Austin [the state capital] has any real concern about."

GFLakeGasWatch2 karma

One of my pet peeves have been compressor stations.

Were emissions from them checked along with noise levels? Also were blowdowns monitored and the release of gathered H2S there monitored?

lisasong6 karma

Compressor stations can be a major source of emissions. They're included in our air emissions diagram--if you want more info, see

drangundsturm2 karma

Is there anyplace you're aware of that regulations are adequate?

Would you want fracking/drilling in your backyard?

lisasong3 karma

We only looked at Texas, but found there are big differences even within the state. Residents in parts of the Barnett Shale, in north Texas, have stricter air quality regulations than residents in the rest of the state (including Eagle Ford).

Ambustion1 karma

Are the dangers from fracking more from chemicals used or that have sat dormant deep in the earth and dredged up?

Also, did you do any research into the fracking going on in Canada in comparison to the us?

lisasong1 karma

There are toxic chemicals in fracking fluids and the naturally-occurring produced water. I don't know of any conclusive research on which one is more toxic--it would depend on the local geology, the formation, and what's in the fracking fluid used for each well.

And, we didn't look into Canada. Just Texas, and a bit of research on Colorado's air regs (which are stronger than Texas')

curiousgeezy1 karma

What was MIT like? And are you sitting in a giant chair or are you just that small?

lisasong2 karma

MIT was busy, and insane. And yes, that is a very large chair.

pipo0981 karma

How did you get into this career since graduating MIT? What drives you in this quest to shed light on the fracking industry?

Also, I want to share this amazing BBC blog article I just read about how the tradition of journalism was revived in the early 1900's and led to numerous antitrust litigation that showed citizens how much power they have and led to huge positive change:

lisasong7 karma

I realized I didn't want to be a scientist, but I liked writing about science. So I did the MIT graduate program in science writing, a master's program. That got me into journalism and out of the lab...

Frajer1 karma

What's the worst short term and long term consequence of fracking?

lisasong4 karma

From an air quality standpoint, in the Eagle Ford, short term would be a big dose of hydrogen sulfide. It could knock someone out or even kill you--it's a danger for workers, definitely. Long term would be prolonged exposure to chemicals like benzene that can cause cancer. But we won't know the long-term effects in the Eagle Ford for years or decades.

Mcmasterking-1 karma

Did anyone try and block your research as you conducted it? Were there obvious roadblocks they created for you?

lisasong1 karma

Look at the answers to Qs from GooLuster and schoshdiver