DISH, Texas, Mayor Calvin Tillman was given a hero's welcome Friday during a visit to Williamsport.
A crowd of about 200 people gathered at the Genetti Hotel to hear Tillman discuss air and water quality issues he alleges were caused by natural gas operations in and around his town.
The event was hosted by the local environmental group Responsible Drilling Alliance and sponsored by local business, FreshLife.
FreshLife owner Barbara Jarmoska introduced Tillman to the audience by describing him as "truly an American hero" who showed courage by standing up to the large corporations.
"He didn't want to fight, but he is pretty darn good at it," Jarmoska said.
Tillman said his town sits directly on top of the Barnett Shale, which has similarities to the Marcellus Shale in northeastern United States. The first test well was drilled using the hydraulic fracturing technique about 15 miles west of DISH in 1997, he said.
Since then, DISH, which in 2005 adopted the name "DISH" in all-capital letters for free satellite television, has become the "Grand Central Station of the Barnett Shale" with 11 high -pressure gas lines, five side-by-side compressor stations and 18 wells inside the town limits and 50 just outside.
Tillman said he noticed issues with noise and odors emanating from the compressors. Dissatisfied with an industry attempt to pinpoint the source of the odor, Tillman used 15 percent of the town's $70,000 budget to hire a firm - Wolf Eagle Environmental - to perform a test on seven private properties.
Tillman said the test revealed that all but one of the samples showed signs of toxins - including benzene - above what is called the "effects screening level" or ESL.
ESLs are used for permitting purposes by the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality to predict potential impacts of materials in air.
The commission also did a study by taking 94 test sites at 44 locations throughout the Barnett Shale region, including DISH, and found 21 of those samples to be above ESL, though "DISH was one of the low ones," Tillman said.
The commission installed four expensive air monitoring systems. Tillman said benzene levels are still detectable but not exceeding state limits.
In January, the Houston Chronicle reported that while elevated levels of benzene were detected at about 20 percent of the 94 test sites, at only two of the sites - a compressor station and gas well - were the levels cause for alarm. In both instances, the companies causing the problems were notified and made necessary repairs.
Travis Windle, a spokesman for industry organization Energy Indepth, said the commission's findings show the initial study performed by Wolf Eagle Environmental was flawed.
"It's clear that the independent research done by regulators has determined that natural gas production in the Barnett Shale is not adversely affecting air quality as proclaimed by (Wolf Eagle)," Windle said.
An independent study of the company by another firm also called into question the Wolf Eagle's data gathering methods and test results.
Tillman dismissed what he called attempts by the industry to "debunk" the Wolf Eagle Environmental study.
Tillman said a questionnaire of 31 citizens in the town showed that they exhibited some symptoms that could be tied to materials detected in air samples, he said.
The Texas health department was ordered by the Center for Disease Control to test one adult in 28 households. Tillman also was tested. Though no serious level of toxins were found in his urine or blood, ethylbenzene, styrene and xylene were detected in his drinking water.
Tillman discussed ways in which air pollution issues can be mitigated. He said green technology can be used that will reduce emissions and increase the amount of gas kept in the gas gathering system.
He also spoke out in favor of a severance tax on natural gas. His words were echoed by state Rep. Rick Mirabito, D-Williamsport, who arrived on the scene to urge those in attendance to pressure politicians to support the tax.