Drilling Divides Fort Worth

Since 2004, when a vast deposit of natural gas in the Barnett Shale, on which Fort Worth sits, became more accessible because of new horizontal drilling technology, Chesapeake has drilled around 2,000 wells there. Permits for around 14,000 wells are believed to have been granted on the shale in North Texas. There are around 1,300 wells operating just in the Fort Worth city limits -- about one quarter of which are operated by Chesapeake. Before 2005, there were none. It's an economic boom fueled by the shale play and the push for alternative energy sources beyond petroleum. The state of Texas now generates 40 percent of its electricity using natural gas, viewed as cleaner-burning and less harmful to the atmosphere than coal.

Billions at Stake

With Chesapeake alone shelling out north of $10 billion dollars on land leases, permitting fes, and royalty deals in the past few years, there's usually little resistance to their agenda. It's one that represents jobs. The gas drilling industry has created some 53,000 jobs in the past decade, and that's just in the Fort Worth area, according to a study by the Texas Workforce Commission.

In Ridglea, though, the tide may be turning. About two dozen homes sit within 600 feet of the proposed drilling, or pad site, said Dan Tartaglia, an attorney who lives nearby and who is spearheading opposition to the site. In order to get permission to drill in a "high-impact" zone, Chesapeake needs waivers from a majority of the homeowners within 600 feet. Only four residents have signed permission waivers, Tartaglia said. Even if Chesapeake doesn't get all the necessary waivers, the city can still grant them permission to drill in Ridglea, via a high-impact waiver. A hearing on proposed drilling in Ridglea is set for July 13.

Showdown is Set

"If the people who are directly affected oppose this, and come out in force, then I believe the city council will have no choice but to do the right thing and oppose this drilling site," Tartaglia said.

But the nine-member Fort Worth city council has in the past few years granted dozens of requests from energy companies to drill in residential areas. "I only know of one high-impact waiver request that was ever denied," said Don Young, founder of FWCANDO. "They hand these out every week."

At least one councilman is an oil and gas attorney, Young said. "The others have been lobbied to death and/or bought off," he said.

Chesapeake expects to have a majority of the necessary waivers and all of its paperwork in place in time for the hearing, and is hopeful that a drilling permit will be obtained, said Leah King, the company's senior director of public affairs. She pointed out that residents and business owners, around 6,400 in all, stand to receieve upwards of $60 million in royalty payments just from the Ridglea site, though spread out over at least 20 years.

King, a Fort Worth resident who says she herself lives 300 feet from a well site, strongly resents any implication that Chesapeake puts profit over safety and environmental concerns. "The perception that energy companies don't care about the environment, or safety, is just flat wrong," she says. "The idea we'd put a little extra profit ahead of possibly harming people or causing harm to the environment is, to me, unfathomable."

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