Thursday, October 17, 2013

The Denton Dilemma: Why We Are Fracked

EagleRidge is fracking two wells just across the street from the UNT football stadium. In an act of energy irony, the laterals from these wells travel about 8,000 feet directly below the UNT wind turbines.


The wells are not on university property, but UNT owns 75 of the 224 acres of minerals pooled in this lease (click on the second P-12 form here). For a University that has a mission of promoting a "sustainable future," it prompts the question:

I took some videos of the fracking operation. I can confirm what Sharon Wilson reported about the absence of masks on workers. The wind was whipping smoke, fumes, and sand all over the place and carrying it far over the fence line. I spent just a few minutes downwind of the site and felt sick for the rest of the morning – hoarse, nauseous, and light-headed. The noise was deafening – so loud that it drowned out the sound of highway traffic behind me, even though the traffic was much closer.

Click here to see more of the black smog coming off this site.




Now it is one thing to put this next to the highway. But it’s another thing to put it right next to a neighborhood. Of course, that won’t happen anymore, right, because we have an ordinance that specifies a 1,200 foot setback between fracking sites and homes.

Wrong. It is about to happen. This massive, noxious industrial site is about to move on down Bonnie Brae to Vintage. Soon this same scene will be repeated less than 200 feet from homes where young families with children live. It is not right or fair. But it is legal and it is going to happen. And then it will happen again and again.

This is the Denton dilemma. We want to protect our citizens with larger setback distances, but despite our efforts we are seeing gas wells just as close to homes as they were before we even passed our first ordinance in 2002. The gas wells predate the regulations, so the regulations don’t apply. We are doomed to be haunted by the ghosts of policies past.

I went to the Denton 2030 comprehensive plan community forum tonight. There, I learned that in the next 20 years Denton is expected to grow by 94,000 people. That means about 37,000 new homes and apartments. And we learned that at least 50% of that growth is going to be west of the core where gas wells are most dense. When new homes come to existing wells, we have learned from the Vintage neighborhood example, our setback rules don’t apply. We will see more fracking very close to homes. Close to kids.

I had a conversation at the meeting tonight with a high-ranking City official. Here was our conversation:

Me: “Have you seen the Vintage situation?”

Him: “Yes. It is awful.”

Me: “Could that happen again?”

Him: “Yes”

Me: “Is it likely?”

Him: “Very.”

Me: “Why?”

Him: “It’s the perfect storm. All our growth is heading west, right into country so thickly developed with gas wells that you could stand anywhere, throw a rock and hit one. And all those wells are vested under old rules.”

So, in addition to the people here already surrounded by pad sites, we are looking at 50,000 new people who will be in the thick of it. Our ordinance does nothing for them.

Denton, we have a problem. What are we going to do?


  1. What is just is scary is there are pipelines that are not mapped too. Denton weakened their ETJ rules. As soon as they grow and want to annex for more revenue, those wells and pipelines that were drilled and never platted will come back to haunt them. I tried, I really, really tried to tell them. They did not care.

  2. If there were full disclosure--certain exposure to dangerous chemicals, high risk of explosions, noise, dust, traffic and lower property values--at the time of sale, no one would buy a home near shale gas drilling and there would be no expansion.

  3. OSHA should see this since they may be back at work, now. Thank you for taking these videos. Oh, the irony of ALL of it is so overwhelming. And it is virtually the same thing in all our North Texas cities. We may have greater setbacks and revised ordinances but they certainly don't apply to wells that were permitted earlier. It's all such a travesty and a runaway train wreck.

  4. People are actually supposed to put up with this near their homes and schools. This noise and pollution should not even be allowed anywhere but in the boonies if anywhere.

    1. You could say the same thing about a new Wal-Mart or McDonalds!

    2. Sorry, Ben - I am not deaf to the comparative risk argument but a frack job is in no way comparable to a McDonalds or Wal-Mart. And, besides, those businesses have to follow zoning laws - for some reason this industry thinks it can set up shop wherever it wants.

    3. I didn't realize we were only talking about risk during the initial phase of gas drilling. I thought we were talking about noise & pollution over the life of a business. Wal-Mart & McDonalds are 24-7 operations & there is NEVER a break. Gas wells are noisy at first but then they are relatively quiet. I think if you asked a 100 people which they would pick to have in their backyard they would choose the gas well!
      As for your over-generalization about gas companies... Most companies avoid city zoning issues, so by definition most companies follow zoning laws. This is why you never hear of problems w. Devon, Conoco or XTO. All through this long drawn out process all I said was craft a balanced ordinance that did not completely ban fracking, so companies could make up their own mind about whether to operate in that city. I think that is what we have & wish people would realize most companies don't operate this way!