Drilling Divides Fort Worth

Photo: Land Grab: Clean Energy Movement Can Leave Communities Divided: Natural Gas Exploration Brings Economic Boost and Environmental Concerns

Earlier this month, in a remote area about 40 miles south of Fort Worth, Texas, a contractor accidentally struck an underground natural gas pipeline. It exploded, sending a ball of fire hundreds of feet into the air, killing the worker.

The next day, another gas pipeline exploded in a desolate stretch along the Texas panhandle near the Oklahoma border – another accidental rupture, two more people dead.

With the BP oil disaster in the Gulf dominating headlines, two pipeline explosions in as many days didn't get much national attention. Even in Texas, where drilling is as ubiquitous as ten-gallon hats and Friday night football, the explosions didn't cause a big stir.

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But these events were not overlooked by Laura Reeves and other residents of an affluent, heavily populated section of Fort Worth known as Ridglea.

Drill, Baby, Drill

Oklahoma City-based Chesapeake Energy plans to drill for natural gas in Ridglea, on a site known as Westridge. It's less than 1,000 feet from hundreds of homes, a school, a daycare center and a country club. The Chesapeake plan calls for four initial wells, and up to 20 more after that, as well as a large pipeline. Reeves and some of her neighbors are rattled, and ready for a fight.

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"Just think if a pipeline explosion had happened here," Reeves said. "How many lives would have been lost? These oil and gas companies keep saying that these things are rare, these things don't normally happen, can't happen. But the truth is they do happen."

Reeves and various civic groups, such as Fort Worth Citizens Against Neighborhood Drilling Operations (FWCANDO), insist that natural gas wells simply have no place in residential areas. But their voices represent the minority view in Fort Worth. Here, and across Texas, there is generally little opposition to oil and gas drilling. Most people in the Fort Worth area welcome it, and the billions of dollars of wealth are piped into the region as a result.

'It'll Take a Tragedy'

"I'd say only about ten percent of the population are opposed to drilling," said state Representative Lon Burnam, who represents a large section of Fort Worth. Rep. Burnam has been pushing the city council to put a moratorium on any new drilling until air quality issues can be better understood, and more stringent safety regulations put in place.

Burnam, like Reeves, admits that opposing drilling in Texas can be like opposing trading on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange. "The oil and gas industry completely controls the state, calls all the shots and that's just the way it is," Rep. Burnam sighed. "Sadly, it'll take a tragedy for someone to wake up and put a halt to drilling in residential communities."

That heavily populated sections of Fort Worth could become host to so many gas wells is not too surprising considering the state's historic ties to, and acceptance of, drilling. And, of course, there's the money at stake.

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