Fracking comes to my back yard

Sometime in the wee hours I woke up to an unfamiliar sound. At first I thought it was the furnace malfunctioning, but walking around the house I realized it came from outside. It sounded vaguely like the highway noise we occasionally hear from I-35E, but it was too loud and too steady, with occasional pounding sounds. Certain that nothing was wrong with the house I went back to bed, but when I awoke this morning the sound was still there, still loud, still annoying.

I stepped out on the patio and looked toward South Lakes park, where I had recently seen some drilling rigs on the Acme Brick property on the other side of the park. The rigs were gone but the noise appeared to come from there.

Source: Denton Gas Well Sites (markup is mine)

Bill and I decided to take advantage of the 65 degree weather and walk the dog at the park. Sure enough, the roaring noise was coming from the other side of a “sound barrier” around the gas well. I recorded it and uploaded it to my YouTube channel. I’m told what we’re hearing are probably the pressure pumps and the diesel engines that run them.

This is a lovely park, with a popular jogging and bike trail as well as natural areas abundant with wildlife. We’ve seen wild turkeys there. People eat the fish from the well-stocked lakes. The nearby McMath Middle School students use the park and jogging path for sports and PE classes. Their football team practices near the well. An apartment complex backs up to the property very near to another well.

Later, while watching the Kentucky basketball game with the volume quite loud I could still hear the noise, so I stepped out on the patio to record it. It’s appropriate to mention that, based on Google Maps, this drill pad is about 3,000 feet from my house. That’s at least half a mile.

My Fracking Evolution

I lived in Houston for 18 years and even worked in the energy industry. I’ve always been a fan of natural gas because it is the cleanest burning fossil fuel and can be extracted from the ground with minimal environmental impact.

Source: TexasVox.org

Or so I thought when I moved to Denton in 2005 and heard lots of complaining about “fracking.” We live over the Barnett Shale, and gas wells were popping up in downtown Fort Worth and Arlington, and all around Denton County and Denton. My reaction to all the complaints was “Whiners. There are far worse things you could have in your back yard than a gas well.” And that’s true in places like Houston where the gas is formed in pockets in the earth or salt domes. But extracting shale gas from the ground is very different, and it’s taken me a few years to learn about it. Still, I considered it somebody else’s problem.

Hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, is the process by which gas, trapped in shale, is removed from the ground and brought to the surface. This is done by pumping water, sand and chemicals into the well to break up the shale and free the gas. Contamination of groundwater, air emissions, re-injection of drilling waste and earthquakes are among the concerns of people living in drilling areas. And right now, 9 out of 10 gas wells in the United States involve fracking, according to an article by ProPublica.

Gas drilling is so pervasive in our area that the Denton Record-Chronicle, in partnership with Mayborn School of Journalism graduate students, produced an award-winning series called “Citizens of the Shale” in 2012. It focused on the people affected by the industry, the regulatory climate, and other issues. It’s worth the time to read it.

Before gas wells started sprouting around town the biggest polluter in town was Acme Brick, which supplies more than a third of the Toxic Release Inventory emissions in Denton County. Their compliance has improved, thanks to installation of new scrubbers on their stacks several years ago ahead of an enforcement schedule.

Photo (c) David Minton, Denton Record-Chronicle

While Acme Brick appears to be doing its part to be a good neighbor, the driller on their property, Eagle Ridge, apparently has not. A recent blog highlighted issues faced by a neighborhood near an EagleRidge site adjacent to the UNT campus. While writing this blog I found other blogs and blog posts dedicated to the drilling issue in Denton, which at one time imposed a moratorium on gas drilling. There’s even a blog post about the well that woke me up this morning. Recently the city council has been inconsistent in the messages it sends via votes, such as this recent zoning change that could allow houses as close as 250 feet from wells. It’s enough to make your head spin.

All Fracked Up?

There’s too much to say about this dilemma in one short blog post. I’ve passively watched it play out, and while I was quoted in a Denton Record-Chronicle article by Peggy Heinkle-Wolfe and Lowell Brown about unscrupulous public relations practices by the fracking industry, I really wasn’t paying much attention to the issue.

Until I was awakened by roaring and thumping in the wee hours of a Saturday morning.

This won’t be my last post on this topic.

Blogs I am now following:

TXSharon BlueDaze Drilling Reform blog includes an incredible list of blogs and resources on this topic.
Denton Drilling is a local blog by a UNT professor who also writes for Slate.
City Councilman Kevin Roden’s blog often covers gas drilling issues.
Denton Citizens for Responsible Urban Drilling has a great blog and possibly the best acronym (DCRUD) ever.
Denton Drilling Awareness Group has an informative website.
Shale Stories by Peggy Heinkel-Wolfe, reporter for the Denton Record-Chronicle.
Barnett Shale blog by the Fort Worth Star-Telegram

Fracking uses a lot of water, so I’ve bookmarked the Texas Drought Project.

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