The natural gas leak at an XTO drilling site last Friday was (1) scary as hell or (2) ain’t no thang, depending on whom you ask. Residents of the Meadows West neighborhood in southwest Fort Worth most likely choose No. 1. A strange noise coming from across the Trinity River in nearby Benbrook at about 7 p.m. Friday made them nervous. “There was this horrible roaring — it sounded like jets going over,” Sharon Austry said.

The noise was coming from a well site near Winscott Road. Austry called 911 and was connected with the Benbrook Fire Department, where someone assured her they would investigate. Meanwhile, she tried to find an emergency number for XTO without success.

“XTO has absolutely no emergency number, not in the phone book, not on the web site,” she said.


She and others worried that the leak was shooting toxins into the air. Should they evacuate? She called the Texas Railroad Commission, the agency that regulates drilling, but got few answers.

Austry called the fire department again and was told firefighters were on the scene. The noise stopped at about 9:15 p.m., she said, and about 30 minutes later an XTO employee shared some information.

The storm had caused a power outage at a well in Johnson County, which created a pressure buildup in the pipeline leading to the Benbrook well, she was told. A small rupture was allowing gas to escape. Austry asked why the company didn’t list an emergency number and was told the number is posted at the well site.

“In case of a leak, I guess you’re supposed to crawl through the gas to get to that site and get a phone number,” she said.

Benbrook Fire Department Assistant Chief Mark O’Connor said the neighborhood wasn’t in danger. “[XTO] had a small leak in … part of the valve on the pipe,” O’Connor said. “Because of the small size of the hole and the amount of pressure, it sounds very, very loud, and yet it’s not releasing that much gas.”

The well site is in a wooded area, the closest homes are more than 300 yards away, and a light wind was blowing away from the neighborhood, O’Connor said. Benbrook’s fulltime firefighters are certified hazardous material technicians. If conditions had been different, firefighters would have warned neighbors, he said.

“We’re not going to … scare people when the situation doesn’t make it necessary,” he said.

Sounds reasonable, but being more proactive in communicating with residents who hear a leaky pipeline roaring like a jet plane might be nice too.


Bang That Gavel

Multi-talented Weekleteer Jeff Prince added another piece of hardware to his collection recently: a gavel, courtesy of the State Bar of Texas.

Well, he doesn’t have the actual item yet — he’ll receive it Aug. 10 at the Freedom of Information Foundation of Texas’ annual conference in Austin. But the word has gone out that Jeff is one of only a handful of winners in this year’s Texas Gavel Awards, honoring “journalistic excellence in legal reporting.”

He won it for “The Power of Alienation” (June 8, 2011), reporting on a flawed family court system that allows parents to lose custody of a child even when there are no accusations of physical or mental abuse or neglect. (The story also won second place in the Association of Alternative Newsmedia’s national contest this year.)

All of this and he sings too. Congrats, Jeff.