VIDEOWatch ranchers hunt for dangerous air

Fearing Health Impacts, Ranchers Take On Oilfield Air Pollution

The quiet life on the pristine ranches of Dimmit County has been turned upside-down by the shale boom.

The frenzied drilling has meant more revenue for Hugh Fitzsimons, whose ranchland — in the family for nearly a century — has been ripe for energy production. But Fitzsimons worries it’s doing more harm than good, both to his land and to his ranch foreman, Freddy Longoria.

Longoria and his children have been overcome in recent years by headaches and nosebleeds, which he and Fitzsimons fear is linked to the natural gas and chemicals Longoria is exposed to while working the ranch. The two men are using an infrared camera — which can spot gas and chemical leaks that are invisible to the naked eye — to try to investigate their own hypothesis.

Disclosure: Hugh Fitzsimons is a major donor to The Texas Tribune. A complete list of Tribune donors and sponsors can be viewed here.

Dimmit County

Dimmit County by the Numbers

2000 2010 2013
Population 10,248 10,032 10,897
2002 2012
Number of farms 268 367
Farmland (acres) 571,000 677,000
Oil production (barrels) 541,000 13.3M
Natural gas production (cubic feet) 775M 86.5B
Source: U.S. Census Bureau, U.S. Department of Agriculture, Texas Railroad Commission