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Report examines environmental impact of Eagle Ford companies

BHP Billiton tops scorecard for second year in a row

SAN ANTONIO – It's been a tough year for the Eagle Ford Shale with the price of oil dipping to record lows.

This trend has made it too expensive for companies operating in the region to drill and fracture wells.

Up until now, hydraulic fracturing, more commonly known as fracking, has been very lucrative to south Texas. However, many don't really know what the process involves.

President and CEO of the South Texas Energy and Economic Roundtable, Omar Garcia, said fracking has been around for over 60 years and involves a combination of sand, water and chemicals. He said the chemicals makes up less than 1 percent of the mixture, which is pumped thousands of feet below the ground to fracture rock.

"That hydraulic fracturing is a very innovative technology, and has allowed us to produce millions of barrels of oil and gas in south Texas in the Permian basin and creating thousands of jobs," Garcia said.

But with the innovative technology comes risks to the communities in which they operate and the environment.

A recent report by the Investor Environmental Health Network took a look at how well corporations are managing those risks.

Click here to read the full report.

BHP Billiton has operations throughout the Eagle Ford Shale, including a rig site in Cuero, about 2.5 hours southeast of San Antonio.

The company was recently ranked No. 1 for the second year in a row by the Investor Environmental Health Network on how much they publicly share risks associated with fracking.

At the Cuero rig site, the pieces of the rock from the drilling process are filtered through machines and put in bins, so they never touch the ground. They're then hauled off to a recycling facility.

Along with how companies handle their waste, the IEHN report looked at the use of toxic chemicals, air emissions and water usage.

"If we can get by with the water that's of the lower quality, which we can in many cases, then we think it's better to use that water than tap into the fresh sources," said Edwin Mongan, senior manager regulatory and environment at BHP Billiton.

Mongan oversees the environmental practices at BHP Billiton.

Their team recently addressed concerns raised by the local conservation district involving low water levels in DeWitt County.

"As we get the word out, then people are not so skeptical of the big companies coming in. They can see some of the pluses," said Velinda Geffert, secretary at DeWitt Co. Soil and Water Conservation District.

Investing in conservation efforts across south Texas is always a big plus.

BHP Billiton has donated $2.4 million to the construction of Confluence Park, the San Antonio River Foundation's latest project that will break ground on the South Side this summer.

In the meantime, key players in the Eagle Ford Shale continue to find ways to operate in a way that's best for the environment.

BHP Billiton is focusing on improving its air emission -- methane leakages in particular, because it's more potent than carbon dioxide. By the end of this year, the company's target goal will be no more than 1 percent across all of its operations.

"I suspect other companies are doing the same thing and they're going to be catching up. We're going to have to work very hard if we want to stay at the top of that list," Mongan said.