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The Barnett Shale Fracking Experience - a warning to communities.

Updated on February 23, 2011

Natural Gas exploration of shale deposits is well underway in many parts of the country and the world. The new way to extract gas trapped in these deposits is to drill down below the water table into the shale formation where the gas is trapped. This can be many thousand feet below the surface. The drill head is then turned parallel to the surface and continues to bore holes up to 1 mile from the well. Numerous other holes are drilled from the same location, radiating outwards to cover a large area.

When drilling is complete, and the well holes are lined with concrete through the water table area to prevent contamination, the holes are injected with a water/sand/chemical mix under tremendous pressure to  fracture and expand the dense shale and release the trapped gas.

The Barnett shale play (term for gas production activity) has been the test bed for developing both horizontal drilling and high pressure fracturing, as opposed to the traditional vertical well production in other shale areas. The municipalities and residents of the Dallas/Ft. Worth metroplex have had a few years experience with the benefits and drawbacks of fracking. Royalty checks have been flowing to cities, school districts, airports and property owners, On the other hand, neighborhoods have been invaded by eighteen-wheeler tank trucks, people have been sickened by Benzene and other noxious compounds, contaminated water from 'leakproof' well heads has ended up in ground water and giant roaring compressors fill the air with noise and diesel fumes.

The government and the Gas Industry presents a rosy picture of 'new world' of gas drilling (http://www.gwpc.org/e-library/documents/general/Shale%20Gas%20Primer%202009.pdf), touting a panoply of regulatory agencies, Federal, State and Municipal, that protect citizens and communities from the evils of pollution and other operator skulduggery. The reality on the ground is very different. The Texas Railroad Commission has jurisdiction of oil and gas wells (this being Texas) but only regulates the distance from one well to the next. The EPA hands pollution control over to a underfunded and seemingly hapless Texas Commission of Environmental Quality , the County government has no regulatory powers at all and the city and town oil and gas laws are effectively obsolete. Indeed, after an initial love fest between the gas companies (Note- Giant multi-national megalithes) and the local city councils of less-than-disinterested landowners and investors, local citizen protests fueled by web-blogs and environmental protection organizations, i.e. Earthworks, have forced tighter control and revised ordinances to limit gas company operations and force more extensive cleanup.

Active Shale Plays

Name
Location 
Area- Square Miles 
Potential - trillion cubic ft.
Barnett
TX ( Dallas-Ft.Worth) 
5,000 
44
Fayettville
Arkansas, Oklahoma
9,000
41.6
Haynseville
Louisiana, East Texas
9,000
251
Marcellus
PA, and 6 surrounding States
95,000
262
Woodford
South Oklahoma 
11,000 
11.4
Antrim
Michigan 
12,000 
20
New Albany
IL, IN, KY
43,500
20

Dish, TX -

The small town of DISH, Texas is the location of a large cluster of gas compressors, bulk storage tanks and pipeline terminals serving several natural gas fracking operations near Dallas. After numerous complaints by residents of health problems, obnoxious fumes, sick cattle and dying trees, and the poor response by the Texas Commission of Environmental Quality (TCEQ), the mayor of Dish, Calvin Tillman, commissioned a study in 2010 by Wolf Eagle Environmental, costing 15% of the town's budget. That's how serious the problem was. The study found Benzene and other pollutant emissions over the state limits.

"Frankly, I didn't think the results would come back as bad as they did, “said Mayor Calvin Tillman. “TCEQ needs to shut these compressors down immediately and until we can get emission controls that protect the residents living right up against this infrastructure."

This serves as a warning for other communities where fracking operations are planned, including Texas, New York, Pennsylvania, Ohio, West Virginia and Arkansas.

"Living with this type of infrastructure and development is difficult to imagine until it's here. You can feel and hear the compressor engines roaring," says Kathy Chruscielski, a citizen activist with the Texas Oil & Gas Accountability Project. "It's like living next to a 24 hour truck stop. Homeowners suddenly find themselves next door to an industrial zone with very little recourse at the federal and state levels."

"Based on Horseheads' welcome of Schlumberger, I don't think the Village government really has thought about what's coming," says Wes Gillingham of Catskill Mountainkeeper. "Experience like DISH's and others warn of the too often negative consequences of shale infrastructure."

"We need to get the balance right," says Gwen Lachelt, Director of EARTHWORKS' Oil & Gas Accountability Project. "The drilling industry's track record repeatedly demonstrates that current regulation is inadequate. Fortunately, shale drilling is in its early stages, so it's not too late to learn from decades of hard-won experience in the RockyMountain gas patch and elsewhere. That experience shows there is no substitute for adequate federal and state oversight and enforcement. We can start with passage of the FRAC Act."

In DISH, Mayor Tillman echoes the statement about getting it right with what he calls the precautionary tale of DISH's mega gas complex.

"The companies behind the gas complex gave us a great sales pitch. But that's all it was. Turns out we needed stronger rules to make them walk their talk."

 

Gas company skulduggery - case in point

The pictures below show the impact of fracking operations on a quiet rural/residential road just outside of Argyle, TX. We are not even considering the drilling sites, this example is typical of the tanks, compressors and contaminated water storage needs for a cluster of wells in the area. The residential/farm property used for the site was transferred/sold to the drilling operator without any public notice. 18-wheeler tank trucks enter and exit daily with loads of contaminated water from the surrounding drilling sites. The large brown buildings hold the giant compressors that send the gas on its way to market, reducing the noise and filtering the diesel exhaust. Without neighorhood protest, there would have been a diposal well drilled here and the compressors would have been standing open.

Oh! and by the way, behind the site is an area of natural wetland, just waiting for a toxic water spill.

Rural road in Argyle, TX.
Rural road in Argyle, TX.
Turning the corner. Note the white fence section on the left.
Turning the corner. Note the white fence section on the left.
Behind the white fence is this gas distribution/ waste water storage site on what was a residential lot.
Behind the white fence is this gas distribution/ waste water storage site on what was a residential lot.
Large brown buildings (neighborhood assotiation forced concesion) house giant gas compressors
Large brown buildings (neighborhood assotiation forced concesion) house giant gas compressors

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