The city of 740,000 people lies above the Barnett Shale, which some experts have called the largest onshore natural gas field in the United States. Today the city is home to at least 1,400 natural gas wells; drilling companies have received permits for another 498 wells that are not yet in operation. Texas, of course, is the fossil fuel industry’s home base. But even there, it seems, people like their drilling wells at a comfortable distance, and gas rush has led to a surprising backlash.
“What was once a very nice town, much quieter and more easy going than Dallas, has become an industrial town, and it’s driving people away in droves,” said Don Young, a life-long resident who founded a group called Fort Worth Citizens Against Neighborhood Drilling Ordinance. When he’s not agitating against the gas companies, Young, 60, makes stained glass windows for churches. “Living in Fort Worth has become intolerable. This is a big, heavy industrial operation. There’s no nice way to do it. There’s no way to drill safely, in my opinion, especially in the middle of a city.”
Young says he has two main worries about the gas boom: the way in which the network of drilling pads, pipelines and compressor stations have impacted Fort Worth’s limited amounts of open space, and drilling’s impact on air quality. Fort Worth has never been known for its pristine air — the larger Dallas-Fort Worth metropolitan area routinely ranks as one of the American Lung Association’s worst cities for ground level ozone (or smog). Last year, ozone levels in the region spiked dramatically, and there were more than 30 days when the area violated federal ozone standards. Fort Worth also has one of the highest rates of childhood asthma in the state; about 18 percent of children there suffer from the chronic ailment. Scientists have demonstrated clear links between ozone levels and asthma rates.
Another Fort Worth critic of the gas rush, Gary Hogan, a former member of the city’s Gas Drilling Task Force, was spurred to anti-fracking activism after a well was drilled 600 feet behind his home. Hogan calls Fort Worth “an urban experiment in gas drilling” and says one of his biggest worries is how to protect public safety amid so many industrial sites. “I will never believe that doing this gas drilling in a dense urban environment — with all the infrastructure and risk factors it comes with, the potential for explosions in neighborhoods — is safe,” he said.
Fort Worth’s drilling regulations mandate that well pads be at least 600 feet from homes. But drilling companies can apply for a variety of waivers, and Hogan says some wells are as close as 200 or 300 feet from people’s houses. “The setbacks are totally ridiculous,” Hogan said.
Similar fears about protecting public safety were a driving force behind Pittsburgh’s 2010 ordinance banning fracking in the city limits. “Our firefighters are not trained to deal with a [gas] well fire,” former Pittsburg City Councilman Doug Shields, who sponsored the fracking moratorium ordinance, told me in an interview earlier this year for a separate story. “The mayor, Luke Ravenstahl, had been a big supporter of [the gas industry.] When I introduced the legislation, he issued a statement saying the city would prepare for pollution, well fires, and other disasters. My response was, ‘I’d rather not.’”
Fort Worth fracking opponents say that other communities should beware of gas companies who come into a city promising a big payday. Few homeowners cash out Beverly Hillbillies-style, they warn, especially when gas prices are at record lows. “We were sold a bill of goods,” Hogan said. “There is no money in this for people who live on residential lots. There is no reason to get involved with this right now anyway, because the return on what you are going to make is nothing.”
Before hanging up the phone, he told me: “People need to ask themselves: Do you really want to end up with a gas well behind your house?’ Because I know what it’s like. It’s not worth it to sacrifice your neighborhood. You really don’t want to do this.”
This post originally appeared on Earth Island Journal
Photo credit: ProgressOhio
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