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Under Denton’s gas ordinance, wells cannot be drilled any closer to a residence than 1,200 feet. However, there’s no limit at all on how close to an existing well a new home can be built.

Ogletree said she was outraged to find this loophole after buying her home. The gas well behind her family’s home is 250 feet away. One neighbor’s home is only 187 feet from a well.

Eshbaugh-Soha turned to art to help her son cope with the fumes and noise coming from the Eagle Ridge gas well site near their home.

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“It was simply the result of our frustration and feeling of powerlessness,” she said.

At the height of the fracking process last January, her son drew “before” and “after” pictures of their home to express what he was feeling. Eshbaugh-Soha said she has tried to erase the memories of her ordeal because they were so horrible.

“It was a constant, loud, horrible grinding sound” she recalled. “Being a home-school mom, we kept having to leave our own home to study. That added extra costs to the schooling. I was pulling my hair out. Neighbors would tell me that their blood pressure had gone up because of the noise.”

Adding to their noise-related problems, a nearby Acme Brick kiln installed a new industrial fan in February. A kiln is a type of oven used to harden clay into bricks. She said the fan emitted an incessant low-frequency hum at all hours.

Eshbaugh-Soha turned to the internet to research the dangers of low-frequency noise and to learn how other people have addressed the problems.

“I was sure that I wasn’t the only person going insane,” she said. “It’s a worldwide problem that’s messing with people’s lives.

“Now I know why people in these situations have killed themselves,” she said. “Low-frequency noise gets into your head. You can’t protect yourself from it.”

Acme Brick responded to the public outcry by promising to use an acoustical wrapping around the fan. Eshbaugh-Soha said the wrapping has reduced but not eliminated the noise problem.

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Cathy McMullen, president of the Denton Drilling Awareness Group (DAG), said industrial noise is difficult for companies to control and for cities to regulate.

“It’s part of working with heavy equipment,” she said. “That’s why we never should have done drilling this close to residents. You can’t control this noise, and it’s a very hard thing to regulate. The noise levels I can tolerate are different than what a small child or someone with a migraine can.”

McMullen, 55, moved to her home in west Denton five years ago. In 2010, Range Resources, and subsequently Legend, began drilling a gas well in a development called Rayzor Ranch, which was 1,600 feet from her home. She describes the sound of gas flaring as “horrendous” and similar to a “jet engine.”

“It’s enough to wake you up,” she said. “I couldn’t sleep. It’s a constant noise that really gets inside your head.” As a nurse, she worked varying schedules, and being able to sleep at different hours of the day was crucial.

After checking with Denton city officials, she found out that noise levels were supposed to be kept below 70 decibels.

“I would go measure the noise levels and they regularly spiked above 100 decibels,” she said. But the city ordinance applies only to constant kinds of noise, “so that doesn’t affect clanging pipes, [work-related] yelling, or gas flaring.”

When she realized how entangled Denton neighborhoods and homes were with gas wells, she founded DAG to educate residents about the problems. The nonprofit also tried to convince city council members to revise the gas ordinance.

“We started in 2010 by trying to work within the system. We spoke to our state representatives, city council, the Railroad Commission, Austin, and the state legislature’s sunset commission … . All of that failed, so we tried to make the [Denton] ordinance more protective.”

McMullen said she immediately ran into resistance from council members and industry representatives.

One vocal opponent was Ed Ireland, executive director of the Barnett Shale Energy Education Council, which provides information to the public about gas drilling. The group disputes claims of fracking-caused water pollution. Ireland’s personal website lists his experience in “countering anti-fossil fuel advocates’ claims.”

“He responded to every proposal with, ‘It isn’t feasible,’ ” McMullen said. “When we talked about our concerns with low-frequency noise, he said the industry couldn’t comply with our request.”

Ed Soph, DAG director, said the fracking industry is following the same misinformation tactics as tobacco, lead, and asbestos industries.

“They are trying to say that the scientists can’t connect the dots, and [they] discredit anyone who questions them,” he said. “They’d like to paint us as liberal commie pinkos, but this isn’t a political issue. We have Tea Party folks who are worried about their property values. The onus of proving that something is dangerous should not be on the public. Until fracking is known to not be dangerous to our air and health, we should take the precaution of banning it.”

Among the requests McMullen and her supporters proposed was a limit of 5 decibels above normal noise levels during the day and a special request to minimize low-frequency noise.

In the end, council members lowered the maximum allowable sound level from 70 to 65 decibels but did nothing else. As the ordinances stand, they provide little recourse for those with drilling-related noise complaints.

“Police officers have told me they can’t enforce the code,” McMullen said.

Frustrated with what she calls the city’s “industry-friendly gas ordinance,” McMullen and her supporters are working to completely ban fracking in Denton.

McMullen said she knows that there is little chance of the council voting for the ban, but she is more optimistic about the November general election, when Denton residents will vote on the ban directly via a referendum. She said her group recently submitted more than 1,500 signatures on the petition seeking the referendum.

“It’s hard being the first,” she said. “But it’s about giving hope to others and a blueprint that shows the way.”

Whether her group succeeds in banning fracking in Denton or not, McMullen sees an ongoing need for the educational work they do.

“When I was dealing with these problems, there was no one to help me,” she said. “There is always going to be a need for our work as long as they are drilling in neighborhoods.”
Fort Worth freelance writer Edward Brown can be reached at ejb0017@yahoo.com.

8 COMMENTS

  1. Compressors are also a very large air pollution problem in North Texas. 30 of the 50 tons per day of smog-forming nitrogen oxides produced by the oil and gas industry in the 10-county “non-attainment area” are from compressors. That’s more than the area’s power plants, cement kilns, locomotives, and other traditional industrial pollution sources that have been targeted for better controls in the past. The Rand Corporation estimates that 60-70% of the total air pollution from the natural gas fuel cycle comes from compressors. Noise pollution from them is a more insidious problem, and until recently was treated with the same rolled eyes that the earthquake issue used to get as well. Seems like every couple of months, there’s another hazard to this practice that just wasn’t understood, or perhaps, just ignored.

  2. Industry doesn’t get it, they don’t want to get it and they simply don’t care. To Industry, compressor stations are a given, along with condensate tanks, flares, drill rigs, fleets of semi trucks, dehydration units and pipelines. These and more are part of the process and are all connected. These processes and equipment might work with little complaint or notice out in a West Texas desert, but they do not work near concentrations of people, especially where they reside, go to school or work.

    It’s as if that lack of complaint or issue means it’s perfectly okay to set up a compressor station near someone’s home. That company never gives it a second thought that while they require safety equipment such as hearing protection for their site workers, the people who live right there have none.

    As long as we keep electing or re-electing people whose campaigns are largely funded by Industry, we are going to continue to get what Industry pays for.

  3. Alysee Ogletree lives in Denton and not Argyle. She frequently called the gas well inspector’s office and police dept., along with many of her neighbors, but nothing was ever done to solve the problem. There is a lift compressor on the sight now and the noise is constant, 24/7. within 250 ft of home.
    The problem is once a well goes in there is no way to stop the compressor stations that will come as productions falls. The gas industry will say they have a right to get their gas to market no matter the method.

    To clarify during the beginning of my ordeal in Decatur in 2008 I knew nothing about this industry. I did not know who to call or what to do except move.

    Since then I have met many great people who have helped and guided our effort to protect our community but none have better a greater source of inspiration, support, education, and fighting spirit than Sharon Wilson and Earthworks. Without Sharon we would be lost.

  4. This article in the Fort Worth Weekly magazine was written in 2014. The Low Frequency Noise (LFN) has gotten worse. I have to leave home everyday to survive. AI can usually come back home after noon. Ten years of torture is enough. Maybe, if we write the President in great numbers it would help.

  5. I know this post is older but I need advice .. we are located an hour north of Denton i near ardmore Oklahoma. We not only have a compressor station but an oge electric substation going in .2 of a mile from our property line . .4 mile from our home. We have lived here for over 30 years. There are 6 families being directly affected from the terror of constant semis and dump trucks. Everything I have found out I have hD to dig for , once the personal resource guy from Enabled Midstream Partners figured out I wasn’t going away he hadn’t returned any of my calls. If anyone can provide me with addresses or phone numbers to people who can direct us in how to deal with this . Please call me 5805049746

  6. The price of NG skyrockweting I heard on the news this morning…this is not good for those near all the drilling if they find it more profitable to be back to finish the build out at all these urban drill sites….it sux.

  7. This issue has been a growing problem in eastern Parker County. I’ve noticed it for years–particularly during the winter when gas demand goes up. There are compressor stations all around this area.

  8. I’ve only been in North Texas for a fortnight, but the most recurring conversations were fraught with something in the lines of industry related pollutions. It is shocking that none of my acquaintances over there knew how much damage low frequency noise emissions could cause.
    I’m still shocked at the extent of bodily harm this caused for residents. It was high time something was done to contain the steep sides of, mostly, oil industries.

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