Fort Worth rejects gas well near homes

October 8, 2008 6:47:15 PM PDT
After nearly two hours of pleas and protests from dozens of residents, the City Council rejected Chesapeake Energy's request to drill a natural gas well near several historic, tree-lined neighborhoods. The vote late Tuesday night was 8-0, with one council member abstaining. Afterward, more than 250 people in the packed room stood and applauded wildly. Nearly 100 more in an overflow room and hallway watching a monitor also cheered loudly.

It was the first time the council rejected an energy company's request for a waiver to the city's ordinance that bans wells within 600 feet of homes, schools, hospitals, churches and parks.

"I implore you to treat that setback as the rule, not as the exception," said Jim Bradbury, a past president of one nearby neighborhood association and a member of the city's drilling ordinance committee.

The ordinance was revised in 2006 from the more lenient 300-foot setback. At the time city leaders said they wanted to address residents' noise complaints and other issues amid the urban gas drilling boon in the Barnett Shale, one of the nation's largest natural gas fields under more than a dozen Texas counties.

About 800 wells are currently producing in Fort Worth -- including 100 within 600 feet of homes or schools -- and more drilling permits are pending, according to city records.

Councilman Joel Burns, whose district includes the affected neighborhoods, said Chesapeake's proposed site was as little as 225 feet away from some properties. The site was on vacant land in a rail yard across the street from one neighborhood's entrance.

But about a dozen people spoke Tuesday in favor of the request. Walter Morosky said any noise from the drilling rig would be no worse than trains that regularly run through the rail yard.

Robert Ginsburg, an attorney representing Fort Worth and Western Railroad, the site's owner that supported the drilling, said it was consistent with the property's current and historic use.

"This may not be the best place, but it's an appropriate place," Ginsburg said.

After the council's vote, Chesapeake spokeswoman Julie Wilson declined to say what the company will do.

Energy companies can avoid City Council approval for a waiver permit if the affected property owners agree to the drilling. Wilson said Chesapeake received approval from only 30 of the 90 property owners within the 600-foot setback.

Wilson had called on council members to allow the company to use the site to produce gas from under more than 1,000 properties that she said were already leased to Chesapeake.

"We are not going to take shortcuts," said Wilson, who said the company's development of a site near Colonial Country Club was an example of responsible land use.

People were upset because they thought they had kept drilling out of their neighborhoods of houses built in the early 1900s. They had signed contracts to lease rights to their underground minerals to Fort Worth Energy and XTO Energy -- specifically because those companies promised not to drill there, the Fort Worth Star-Telegram reported in Wednesday editions.

The city's ordinance calls for the setback to be measured from the perimeter of the pad rather than just the well. When Chesapeake revised its application for a permit to include a pad site with multiple wells, the number of properties within the setback grew from 44 to 90, Wilson said.

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