Second Thought: Wednesday, May 18, 2005
... look for gas wells
in your neighborhood soon.
Not-So-Silent Spring

Gas wells may smell like money to some — but how about to neighbors?


After a long, cold, wet year, spring has finally arrived in Fort Worth. I’m so excited I can almost ignore my seasonal allergies. In my cherished Tandy Hills Natural Area, trout lilies, fringed puccoon, and purple Indian paintbrush are here, scouting parties for a fragrant crowd of other wildflowers, grasses, and cacti still prepping under the Eastside limestone hills. These magical hills and hollers remain mostly undiscovered by local residents — my own private paradise. But there’s trouble on the wind, literally and figuratively.
Fort Worth’s only urban prairie preserve faces three main enemies: first, invasive plant species that threaten to shade out the unique prairie flora; second, a city parks department that refuses to fight the first problem; and third and most dangerous of all, hominus extractus, an upright mammal whose only need for nature is what he can extract from it and take to the bank.
Signs of hominus extractus are sprouting on nearby landscapes, and there’s nothing sweet about their fragrance. Gas drilling is now under way on the near East Side and elsewhere. Towering wells have been erected just northwest of the Woodhaven area. Extractus doesn’t make a small, neat den: This one is a denuded swath of private property complete with a plastic- lined pit, a row of trailers, and a bunch of guys with bad attitudes.
They finally figured out a way to tap into the Barnett Shale gas reserves that lie under most of north central Texas — in the heart of a major city — by using fracturing technologies. For perhaps 70 years hence, their smelly, noisy, unhealthy colonies will be popping up on every piece of land they can lease in Tarrant and surrounding counties — perhaps every quarter mile, in some places. This is supposed to be the biggest thing since Spindletop — so look for gas wells in your neighborhood soon.
For the general public, there are lots of unasked and unanswered questions about this process — and that’s just the way the gas extractors want it. Perhaps city staffers didn’t do more in explaining the possible complications because oil and gas industry representatives helped them write the ordinances. Nor should we forget that our mayor is an oilman and that the city council has been a little too eager to take the money and run.
But wait — won’t these wells lower our gas bills, provide an influx of tax money, and help fund improvements in Eastside parks? If you believe that, you should take the time to read a few things the city didn’t tell you last year when they pushed through a deal allowing a company called Dale Resources to drill under Tandy Hills, Quanah Parker, and other city parks — and you should demand answers to a few questions.
For instance, precisely where are the wells on public property going to be located? How long will they operate, and what are the rules? I’d like to see the city ordinances that address the number of wells allowed, how much water they will use — and the companies’ liability requirements.
Speaking of liability, with so many new gas lines and so much greed flowing all over town, are the pipelines safe? In the past few years there have been thousands of pipeline accidents around the world, causing hundreds of deaths and millions in property damage. One such accident happened on May 13 near Marshall, when a fireball from a pipeline explosion injured three people, caused 20 families to be evacuated, and closed a highway.
The pipelines aren’t the only thing dangerous about this business. The “fracturing” method used to tap the gas reserves involves seismic technology, and there’s a lot about it that the companies don’t like to talk about, such as the toxic chemicals used and how they will be kept out of the groundwater. According to the North Central Texas Council of Governments — not considered rabid environmentalists — more study is needed on the “geologic ramifications” of this technology — including potential earthquakes.
As for the wells themselves, blowouts are rare, but they happen: In 2004 a gas well blowout in China killed over 200 people and destroyed an entire village, despite the use of the latest technology and required safety measures.
Are there other environmental concerns? Think ground water pollution, animal and migratory bird disruption, light and noise pollution, and deadly fumes. We need specifics on what’s being done to minimize these problems — and not from the gas companies that keep handing out “environmental awards” to themselves.
But city inspectors should prevent those problems, right? Inspectors who won’t be in the energy companies’ pockets? Well, corruption is about as common in the energy business as salt water in the sea. In recent times we’ve had things like the Cheney task force, the faux California energy crisis, Enron, El Paso Energy, record high gas prices, and record high profits, etc. What’s to be cynical about?
And who the heck is Dale Resources? A simple Google search turned up zilch. How about a detailed report on their environmental record, past fines if any, and a list of their political contributions?
So much for the risks — what about the rewards? Those expecting a decrease in their gas bills are engaging in delusional thinking. This deal is all about a few millionaires making more money. And don’t believe the lie that gas is a “clean-burning fuel.” Cleaner than oil, maybe, but still a contributor to climate change and not a boon to efforts at conservation and finding clean, safe energy sources.
As for the rewards to Fort Worth proper, council member Becky Haskin says “gas drilling is an awesome opportunity” to address the needs of neglected Eastside parks. Can we have that in writing?
If any money is eventually set aside for Tandy Hills, I want a commitment from the city that any independent study of the park be done with the cooperation and endorsement of biologists from the Fort Worth Nature Center and other local experts on Tandy Hills. Any plan that does not emphasize restoration and protection of this urban prairie preserve will be met with unyielding resistance.
It’s time to ask ourselves what really matters. Our children will judge us for accepting tainted money.
Fort Worth environmental activist Don Young has owned the Don Young Glass Studio since 1973.

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