Fort Worth is facing one of the most critical debates in many years, one that will affect our city profoundly for decades to come – and I’m afraid that not enough voices are being heard. The issue, of course, is urban gas drilling and all its auxiliary activities and consequences.
For the second time in three years, the city’s Gas Ordinance Task Force has been convened, to try again to create an ordinance that will adequately regulate this activity, which usually is not fit for urban and residential environments. This may be our last opportunity to make any meaningful change in time to protect our homes and neighborhoods. But my increasing concern as a member of this committee is that, once again, the citizens’ influence may be stifled by the limited opportunities for input. If you want to protect our city with strong standards, you are going to have to demand it.
In the last few years, it has become increasingly clear that gas drilling is not just about mineral-lease bonuses and royalties. Every day, new concerns are raised. Every day, more citizens wake up to find a gas well behind their back fence, a pipeline maybe even coming through their fence, a once-quiet road in front of their house turned into a heavy-truck turnpike – and for what? Even the Barnett Shale Educational Commission, sponsored by the industry, has agreed that the average residential lot owner may make only about $13,000 or an average $25 to $50 per month in royalties over the life of a well. And those profits will be reduced by federal taxes, local property taxes, fees to mortgage lenders, potential loss of equity on homes, and – if the lease is not properly done – charges from the industry itself.
Minimizing the impact of gas drilling on our safety and quality of life has been my goal throughout this process. In 2005 and 2006 we worked on the obvious issues of noise and nuisance abatement, well classification, distance setbacks, and public education. Two years later, these same issues are under debate, as this activity continues to encroach on our neighborhoods. And we have learned that there are more serious and continuing problems.
Pipelines will run throughout our city to serve the hundreds if not thousands of urban wells. Companies are now threatening to take property by eminent domain for these hugely disruptive lines. Major compressor stations that are needed to service wells and pipelines and that will operate 24/7 are not being regulated as they should be.
I’m also concerned about the long-term environmental impacts on our city – on what we breathe and our ability to meet federal clean-air goals for the region, already being affected by hundreds of drilling rigs using diesel generators and thousands of trucks to service the wells. I’m worried about our water supply, which could be affected by pollution from drilling byproducts and their disposal – pollution that has already happened many times in rural areas where residents depend on well water.
I worry about the future marketability of homes in neighborhoods heavily affected by drilling. The more wells, the more impact. And don’t think that well drilling means short-term problems for long-term profit. These wells are high-maintenance and require years of activity to keep the gas flowing.
I have spent the last two years speaking to neighborhoods, organizations, and even other cities about the effects I see from this industry. I am dismayed that I still find neighborhoods where people feel helpless when confronted by prospects of leasing activity. Many residents are unaware of potential problems, or have been told that they have no say-so about drilling, or that it is always inevitable. Then I am dismayed by those who organize just for the purpose of obtaining the next record deal, without also insisting on the best protection of their neighborhood.
If you think there should be more public input in this process, call your council representative and say so. Send me e-mails so that I can present your concerns to the task force. And most importantly, come to the meetings. Public hearings have been scheduled for 6:30 p.m. on June 9 and Aug. 11 at city hall, in council chambers. Regular task force meetings will be at 4:30 p.m. on June 23, July 7 and 21, and Aug. 4 and 18, in pre-council chambers (check the city web site for updates). Based on citizen input, another public hearing may be scheduled before we make recommendations to the council, probably in September.
Please do not sit back and let the special interests overrule your voice on this most important issue.
Gary Hogan can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.