In early January, the rumblings of 18-wheelers brought back memories that Bobby Pickard would prefer to forget. A decade ago, the multinational gas company EnCana agreed to a truce of sorts. Instead of sending semitrucks within feet of Pickard’s property — the vehicles kicking up fine dust, dirtying the air, and damaging nearby roads — EnCana leaders diverted their water-laden trucks down nearby 4500 White Settlement Rd., which is devoid of residences. At the time, it was an all-too-rare victory against Big Oil (“ Trail Dust,” Nov. 2008). That informal deal appears to be off.
On a recent frigid morning, Pickard pointed east and down his fence line toward a long stretch of dirt road.
“They usually send the first round of trucks around 9:30 a.m.,” he said. “To access this road, they have to drive past school buses and children. It looks so outrageous.”
The roads that lead to the dirt road, as he showed me later that morning, are also used by the residents of Chisholm Heights. Pickard said the massive trucks, which can weigh 80,000 pounds when laden with water, are slowly destroying the residential streets. Pickard said he enjoys the relative peace and quiet of living on the unincorporated land just northeast of Weatherford, but those freedoms also mean that road repairs would come from the pockets of nearby residents, not the oil company.
A sign near the entrance of the dirt road that leads behind Pickard’s home and several other houses reads, “Bedrock Production, LLC, Beggs Lease.” Pickard believes that the Houston-based oil company recently took over ownership of the wells from EnCana. The fact that the trucks changed delivery routes 10 years to the day suggests that Bedrock Production did not want to renew the contract that allowed the trucks to access the well sites via 4500 White Settlement Rd.
Bedrock Production did not reply to any requests for information. Through its website, Bedrock Production says it is focused on “acquiring and enhancing mature oil and gas properties.”
Pickard’s neighbor Lisa Kelly said she has a plan to battle the most recent intrusion by an oil and gas company — public shaming. Fighting these companies in court rarely works, she said, because oil companies often employ a small army of well-seasoned lawyers. Kelly and Pickard plan to replicate the same playbook that brought them a 10-year respite from EnCana. Kelly said she plans to reactivate a community blog (BarnettShaleLife.blogspot.com) to document the new traffic.
Community involvement is key, she said. Beyond connecting with affected neighbors, Kelly plans to contact the county sheriff, commissioners, and State Rep. Phil King, whose House District 61 covers much of Parker County. Elected officials were largely sympathetic to the plight of Chisholm Heights residents 10 years ago, and Kelly believes those leaders will come to their aid once again.
The Texas Legislature is preparing for its biannual gathering in Austin, and Pickard and King see another opportunity to advocate for legislation that protects homeowners from the trafficking of frac water (the toxic sludge that results from hydraulic fracturing) near homes. In 2009, a bill authored by King (HB3403) aimed to protect homeowners on unincorporated lands from drive-throughs by oil and gas vehicles. The bill did not pass. Kelly hopes similar legislation will be considered during the 2021 Texas legislative session.
As we chatted near the fence line, a lone 18-wheeler labored down the dusty road on the Beggs Ranch. Pickard said it is only a matter of time before the traffic picks up. The truck drivers are being told to drive slowly to minimize noise, Pickard said, but that doesn’t change the safety and privacy concerns he and many neighbors share. Days of rain have prevented the dust plumes that typically follow the large trucks and linger in the air for hours at a time. Backyards that typically offer privacy have had to be abandoned to avoid the gawking eyes of truck drivers, Kelly said.
The neighbors said they aren’t pro-government regulations and they aren’t anti-oil and gas. The incursions by EnCana and, more recently, Bedrock Productions have forced the neighborhood residents to protect their livelihoods, Pickard said. There are several alternative routes to reach the gas wells that do not jeopardize the health and well-being of families, the two residents said.
“We live in unincorporated land, so that’s why we have to fight our own battles,” Pickard said. “They do whatever they want to because they can. Back 10 years ago, we embarrassed them into doing the right thing, and that’s what we have to do again.”