Residents fight plan to build drilling rig in neighborhood

October 11, 2010 3:20:16 PM PDT
Residents in one League City neighborhood are fighting plans by a developer to begin drilling for natural gas near their homes. The plan centers around property near Bay Area Boulevard and League City Parkway, and it would require special permission from the city. Magnolia Creek Community residents gathered at club house pavilion Monday to express their concerns.

Homeowners are vowing to fight to protect their neighborhood. They're holding a rally Monday night in the hopes of convincing the city the right place for this project is not in their backyards.

A developer wants to use about three acres in Magnolia Creek, a wooded area, to drill primarily for natural gas, but also for oil. The property sits adjacent to a day care center. Just down the street is an elementary school and across the street are neighborhoods.

"There are inherent risks anytime an oil and gas well is being drilled," homeowner Wendy Larson said. "The risks may be small but they are still there."

Those who purchased homes say they were told the land is zoned as commercial. They expected a strip mall of some sort to be built here -- not a drilling rig that stands 131 feet tall. Dozens of homeowners have signed a petition asking the city not to grant the special use permit the developer seeks.

"We're hoping they stand behind their citizens," homeowner Anita White said. "We don't want it here. We have the majority."

Homeowners also worry about the noise coming from the rig, its hours of operation, whether it would be lit up at night and what might happen if there is an explosion.

"The overall impact is for about 25-35 days there will be drill rig that will be visible," developer Lynn Watkins said. "After that, it should not be noticeable at all."

Watkins showed us a rendering of the rig. He says it would be about 20 feet shorter than nearby power lines. He insists there would be minimal impact to the surrounding neighborhood and schools.

Additional traffic, he insists, would be less than that coming and going from a home being built in the neighborhood. He says also of the 400,000 operational wells across the state, there have been only 900 blowouts in the past 30 years. Those, he says, resulted in 131 injuries and nine deaths.

"In that same period, there's been 90,000 traffic deaths on Texas highways in that same period," Watkins said.

We spoke briefly with Donald Van Nieuwenhuise, a professor of Earth and Atmospheric Sciences at UH, on the risk of explosion of such a well and exposure to dangerous chemicals for those living nearby.

"The risk is relatively low, but the risk is there," he said.

But homeowners are worried about a rig effecting property values and fear it's already affecting some home sales there.

The League City Planning and Zoning Commission votes on this issue a week from Monday. Then city council may vote on it next month.


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