ALL THE AIR WE CANNOT SEE: West Texas town struggles to breathe

Published: Feb. 25, 2021 at 7:30 PM CST
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WICKETT, Texas (KOSA) - Wickett is a small city with a population under 500. It’s a map dot off I-20 between Monahans and Pecos. There’s not much to see here, yet it’s what you can’t see that’s the problem.

Daina Fletcher has lived in Wickett with her wife and two teenagers for five years.

“I just thought it’s West Texas, West Texas oilfields, you know? It’s normal,” Fletcher said. “This isn’t normal. This isn’t normal at all.”

During that time, her neighborhood is often clouded by noxious gases.

“If the wind hits just right, it’ll come through your vents,” Fletcher said. “You’ll have a headache. It smells like an oilfield in your house.”

Wickett residents say those gases are coming from a compressor station less than a mile away. The closer you get to the station, the more you can smell the gas.

“They release gases, and it comes into our little town,” Fletcher said. “It makes us all sick. Our homes smell. It’s horrible.”

Residents believe the gases result from blowdowns, which is the process of ventilating gas from an oil well or production system.

Sharon Wilson is a certified gas imaging thermographer for Earthworks who works to raise awareness about the harm releasing gases into the air has on people and the environment.

“It is always an issue out there,” Wilson said. “It is much worse when it is a weather event.”

Weather events like last week’s winter storm, in which there was enough gas in the air to turn the snow brown.

“The oil and gas keep coming up even though it can’t get downstream where it needs to go,” Wilson said. “So, everything gets over-pressurized. At that point, a bunch of gas has to be released, or stuff will explode.”

Some residents have filed a complaint with the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality but haven’t heard anything back.

In the meantime, Fletcher worries about how breathing the gas will affect her health.

“I’m sure that, in the long run, we’re going to have lung issues, heart issues,” she said. “I’m sure it’s really going to hurt us at some point.”

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