Virginia Palacios is a ninth-generation Tejana from Webb County, Texas, where she lives on her family’s fourth-generation ranch. In 2011, Virginia returned home from graduate school to find that oil and gas development in the Eagle Ford Shale region was booming.
That summer, Virginia witnessed spills from open-top dump trucks, and heard from concerned landowners who had no warning that pits full of unknown chemicals would be dug into their soil. Alongside Laredo’s local environmental nonprofit, Rio Grande International Study Center (RGISC), Virginia helped to plan town halls and presentations throughout the region to educate the public about possible impacts of groundwater contamination and air pollution from hydraulic fracturing.
After graduating from Duke University with a Master of Environmental Management degree, Virginia joined Environmental Defense Fund’s (EDF) oil and gas team as a research analyst. There she created a program to educate people in rural and predominantly Spanish-speaking counties of the Eagle Ford Shale region about which agencies to call in the event of an oil and gas incident. (The Railroad Commission still does not provide Spanish language information about how to report potential contamination incidents.)
In addition to community education, Virginia has authored reports and contributed to analyses on methane emissions from oil and gas production in the Barnett Shale region, chemicals in produced water and flowback water, vented and flared gas in Texas, and methane emission leaks from local distribution pipelines in cities. Her work on estimating greenhouse gas emissions and utilizing cost-effective emission mitigation technologies has been published in Public Utilities Fortnightly, and the peer-reviewed Environmental Science and Technology Journal.
After her time at EDF, Virginia was State and Local Policy Manager at South-Central Partnership for Energy Efficiency as a Resource (SPEER), where she assembled a collaborative group of investor owned utilities, energy efficiency companies, and environmental groups to discuss ways to advance energy efficiency policy in Texas. In 2019, Virginia began a consulting firm called VP Environmental, developing actionable data and strategic solutions to help environmental advocacy groups build healthier, safer, and more prosperous communities. Her clients included RGISC, GreenLatinos, and EDF, among others. Approaching her work through a lens of equity, Virginia seeks to eliminate disparities in public health outcomes that occur on the basis of race, ethnicity or income.