The Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ) released its finding of the July 11 investigation of Liberty Pressure Pumping, in which the company was cited for not obtaining a license prior to construction and operation of the Bluff Dale plant.

Liberty provides materials used in the hydraulic fracturing process for gas wells drilled in the Barnett Shale field. One of these materials is “frac sand,” which contains crystalline silica.

According to an Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) report in publication No. 3177, crystalline silica is classified as a carcinogen that can cause lung cancer, silicosis and other breathing disorders.

Former Liberty employee Bob Pilger claims he became sick after working for Liberty for several months, and has hired Fort Worth attorney James Schull to represent him.

Pilger, who needs an oxygen tank to breathe, is out of work and said Liberty’s insurance company is refusing to pay his medical bills.

The TCEQ report also noted other concerns, such as finding “several piles of spilled material” on the site, and that sand emissions from conveyor belts and in-plant roads were not contained. Those concerns will be further reviewed by the TCEQ.

Local watchdog Bill Gordon got involved in the dispute weeks ago and said he is concerned that dust from the silica sand could harm Bluff Dale residents.

After reviewing the TCEQ report, Gordon called the cited violation a “little misleading” and not as serious as it implies.

“All this means is that Liberty has 30 days to apply for a permit,” Gordon said. “It doesn’t resolve the safety and health concerns.”

Meanwhile, residents in Bluff Dale, Stephenville, Morgan Mill and Mountain Lakes have rallied to support Pilger. The group has also started a petition that has about 150 signatures calling for Liberty to comply with state air regulations.

Gordon said he remains frustrated with the pace in which state agencies are moving to force Liberty to comply, and is concerned that the oil and gas exploration industry has become “self-regulated.”

Jason Cooper, an environmental investigator with TCEQ, said it would take an order from the Texas attorney general to force Liberty to shut down if they did not get authorization to operate.

Sara Vanden Berge covers courts, law enforcement, and business and political issues for the Empire-Tribune. She can be reached at sara.vandenberge@empiretribune.com. Her work number is 968-2379, ext. 240.