Testimony of Virginia Palacios Before the Senate Committee on Natural Resources and Economic Development #2
A new peer-reviewed article co-authored by Commission Shift’s Executive Director, Virginia Palacios includes alarming data about Dallas
Laredo, Texas – Natural gas leaks can develop in local distribution systems posing unequal risks to people who live, work, and play nearby, according to a new peer-reviewed article in the journal Environmental Science and Technology. The authors looked at 2014-2017 data for 13 U.S. metro areas including Dallas and found higher rates of leaks per mile in lower income communities or those with larger populations of people of color.
“The number of leaks we observed in natural gas distribution systems are often disparate depending on race and income, especially in Dallas,” said Virginia Palacios, co-author of the article and the executive director of Commission Shift. “The Railroad Commission of Texas has an important role to play in overseeing how thorough, consistent, and equitable gas utility operators’ safety plans are.”
Although most natural gas pipeline leaks are non-hazardous, some leaks can result in disastrous consequences. A February 2018 leak in Dallas caused a home explosion that killed a 12-year-old girl in a predominantly Hispanic neighborhood.
Among the findings in the article:
To our knowledge, no one has done an equity and justice-driven national analysis mapping natural gas leaks. This article provides a roadmap for utilities to gauge the equity and justice of their own operations. We urge utilities to use their most recent data to perform an equity analysis and then take steps to protect people in disproportionately affected areas.
Although not the subject of the study, there are a variety of possible reasons why gas leaks go unrepaired and are unequally distributed across income, language, or ethnicity. These could include:
A Closer Look at Dallas
Language barriers are also a significant inequity, as about one third of Texans speak Spanish at home but Spanish-language information about natural gas leaks and safety is hard to find or nonexistent.
The article recommends several ways to address these gas leaks, including the following:
For Dallas in particular, providing more information in Spanish and other languages would increase equity and limit disproportionate impacts. The Railroad Commission could also consider adding more inspectors to its Pipeline Safety Departmentto better monitor for problems.
“We need the Railroad Commission to make information about pipeline leaks more accessible to the public, so we can weigh in with what we’re observing on the ground,” said Raul Reyes of West Dallas One, an advocacy group in a predominantly Black and Latinx neighborhood. “This goes for language access, explaining technical jargon and processes, and even holding meetings at an appropriate time of day and location.”
The peer reviewed article is called “Environmental Injustices of Leaks from Urban Natural Gas Distribution Systems: Patterns among and within 13 U.S. Metro Areas,” and was authored by Zachary D. Weller, Seongwon Im, Commission Shift Executive Director Virginia Palacios, Emily Stuchiner and Joseph C. von Fischer.For Spanish Click Here