Tuesday, November 12, 2013

The Wells Near Southlakes Park: A Look At Just How Fracked We Are

It looks as though I was wrong in my earlier post about the EagleRidge pad sites near Southlakes Park.  You will recall there are three pad sites – but only two of them (labeled here as northern and southern) are at issue for their proximity to the park.

 I interpreted the ordinance as not being applicable to either pad site. They are in an industrial zone and my reading was that this means the 1,200 foot setback from Protected Uses (including public parks) does not apply.

Turns out I was wrong. Actually, I was wrong about two things. First, I have heard from someone in the know that gas wells in industrially zoned areas are still subject to the setback requirements. I have been assured that everyone in the City holds this to be true. That means these pad sites, even though in an industrial district, cannot be within 1,200 feet of the neighboring Protected Use.

Ah, so that rig is operating illegally, right?!


EagleRidge is not subjected to the current ordinance.

Why? It’s our old friend: vested rights. Even though this is new activity, it is on an existing pad site, which is considered an ongoing project (I guess) according to the logic of Texas Local Government Code Chapter 245.

But, the southern pad site, with two new wells, is a brand new project and would be subject to our ordinance, right?!


There is no southern pad site. The RRC plats show that all three gas wells (Acme 1H, 3H, and 4H) are located on the same site. So, even though the RRC map makes it look like there are two sites (and the southern one would have two brand new wells) there is only one site. Note on this plat how the SL (surface location) is all the same for these three wells. (Only 2H is different, it is on a the western pad site, which was never at issue.) What I have done here is combine the relevant information from the four plats (for wells 1, 2, 3, and 4).   

And because that is all platted, it is all vested. It is certainly vested because there is an existing (vertical) well there (1H).

So, I initially thought the 1,200 foot setback didn’t apply because of the zoning district. But now I think it doesn’t apply because of vested rights. The result is the same either way. The current ordinance doesn’t apply. I have been saying for a while now that the ordinance might have teeth, but it’s got nothing to bite.

But let me emphasize this: It is the City's position that any new drilling (new wells) is considered NEW and must get a permit and comply with the CURRENT ordinance. That would mean in this case that two of these wells would indeed be illegal (the two new ones, 3H and 4H). But note, there is a procedure built into our ordinance whereby operators can formally claim that their project (even if a new well) is vested and thus not required to comply with the current ordinance.

The zaniness here might be magnified. Bear with me as we delve into some language from the Texas Local Government Code Chapter 245. It reads:

“Each regulatory agency shall consider the approval, disapproval, or conditional approval of an application for a permit solely on the basis of any orders, regulations, ordinances, rules, expiration dates, or other properly adopted requirements in effect at the time:

(1)  the original application for the permit is filed for review for any purpose, including review for administrative completeness; or

(2)  a plan for development of real property or plat application is filed with a regulatory agency.”

My take on this: a gas well operator like EagleRidge is vested under the rules in place at the time they filed a plat application. It is not clear whether this means a city plat or a Railroad Commission plat.

But many of the plats on file not only date from ten or more years ago – they also cover huge swaths of land many hundreds of acres in size. Look at this blown up image from the corner of the Acme plat.


I have been told that there are plats like this and even larger all over town. This could mean that operators can claim any well drilled anywhere within the hundreds of acres covered by a plat (even if it does not currently exist) is part of an ongoing project and is therefore vested under older rules. It wouldn’t matter if they are right next to homes, schools, or parks. In other words, we might be more royally screwed by this vested rights business than I previously thought.


  1. http://mobile.nytimes.com/2013/10/18/us/debate-shows-power-of-cities-to-limit-reach-of-drilling.html?redir_esc=&client=ms-android-sprint-us&source=android-browser-type&v=141400000&qsubts=1384362138242&q=how%20did%20flower%20mound%20keep%20out%20gas%20well%20drilling

  2. No, this is not the case or other cities would be in the same situation. A plat is not the same as a gas well permit. If this were the case the property my home is on would not have to follow any current city ordinances if I claimed my vested rights. So by law I should be able to drill a water well on my property in town using the "rule of capture" and the city could not stop me? I don't think so. The RRC issues permits for gas wells on a platted property.
    The city needs to stand up to these bullying techniques by Eagle Ridge and protect our city's future. In the know does not always mean "In the know".
    Cities have been sued using this nonsense and have won, take Flower Mound for example. This is a case of extreme overreach by the drilling companies and I feel they are seeing what they can get away with here in our drilling industry friendly environment before they spring this craziness on another city.
    I mean think about it, this would infere that a driller could put 20 more gas wells on the 3 acre site at the corner of Bonnie Brae and Scripture across from McKenna park if they would all fit on a 3 acre site. Plus, if a permit expires within 2 years of being issued by the RRC then there are many expired gas well permits within the city limits. Please show me where the drillers have reapplied for these drilling permits and asked the city for vested rights and to issue new permits. The city can't produce them because the permits and vest rights request have not submitted. Are we the test case because our city leaders lack a backbone?

  3. There is more than one well planned for Rayzor Ranch! Not sure if the wells are drilled yet but they are definitely platted & permitted. Plus doesn't having more than one well per pad speed up the process & save surface land?

    1. Save surface land? That's the way the industry has framed all of this to make us think it's so unobtrusive and we'll never know they are near us. We all know better by now. It's all very deceptive, really.

  4. Open Letter to Mark Grawe
    CEO of Eagle Ridge Energy- Concerning his Claim of Connections with the Department of Homeland Security.

    Mr Grawe,

    Most Americans are united across the political spectrum that our freedom of speech is worth fighting for and that we have a right to dissent and organize protest. Your threat to the neighborhood association in Mansfield on Wednesday, November 13, 2013 was that you had connections with the NSA and put citizens who opposed drilling in my town (Denton) on the terror watch list for “preaching civil disobedience”. This is one of the most un-American things I have ever heard.

    If I wanted to make money by having loud parties in a rented house with your attitude I'd blast music across the surrounding neighborhood every night to 3am. I'd hire lawyers to tie the hands of police in enforcing noise ordinances. I would threaten town council members with lawsuits that will drain the town budget if they pass any laws to stop me. And when neighbors start calling me out for being a total jerk I'd get on the phone and give the NSA their names as potential eco-terrorists because they don't like noise pollution.

    My wife and I are middle aged political centrists living in Denton in a neighborhood surrounded by your drilling who work with children and the developmentally disabled. We are not terrorists just because we stood up against you in city council and at our neighborhood meeting in Denia Park about a year ago. We are normal middle class neighbors just like the people in last Wednesday's town meeting. Were you enough of a coward to submit our names to the terror watch list?

    If people who might engage in civil disobedience are terrorists then Henry David Thoreau, Rosa Parks, John Lennon, and activists on both sides of the abortion issue (or any issue) are all terrorists. I went to middle-school in the cold war and this is how we were told the Soviet Union treated anyone for being a suspected dissident.

    You don't even try to hide the cronyism that the NSA will dance when you call the tune, you made an open boast of it!

    So I owe you thanks for your emotion-driven moment of candor revealing undeniably how much the state of personal freedom in our country has declined. Your threats will be perceived as equally outrageous from the most tree-hugging hippie to the most NASCAR loving NRA member. This will probably get everyone beyond their left vs. right “culture war” mentality and unite them against the real threats to liberty: people like yourself.

    I don't think you understand Americans, are you sure you grew up here? If you threaten to use the government to silence or intimidate us you are not going to get people to cower in the corner, you are going to make even apathetic people mad and ready to challenge that threat and spawn alliances between Americans who would otherwise agree on little else. They'll be proud to be on that list if you are the one making it, I know I would be.

    Why the heck did you hire an expensive PR firm if you were going to put your foot that far in your mouth? You have all but ensured the people in Mansfield will fight you with every legal resource they have. I'm so grateful that you are so arrogant and impulsive, you don't need to fear any terrorists sir, you are your own worst enemy. Perhaps you should call yourself in to the NSA so they can keep you safe from you.

    John T Russell III


  5. To our knowledge, "Vesting" language is not used in Gas Drilling Ordinances in other cities in the BS. There are special field rules that have been established for the Barnett Shale area since horizontal drilling into shale commenced in recent years. Many of our cities haven't had any history of drilling activity until 2006 and later. Denton may have had earlier drilling but that shouldn't matter.

    As we know, if a pooled unit (or a leasehold) has a well drilled then the lease or leases should be held for that unit. But if a well is drilled and it is shut in (there's no pipeline) then there is no production. There have also been many wells drilled in the BS that ended up being dry holes or were simply exploratory wells when operators were figuring out how to do horizontal drilling into the shale.

    The RRC tells us that a leasehold can actually be consolidated with adjacent leaseholds (or pooled units) to make one big unit as long as there is no production for the one well or any other wells drilled. (This is another BIG loophole that needs fixing since it can cover up problems with a well or well failure.)

    The RRC has made it quite clear to us in writing that they DO NOT deal with leasing...that it's "to be dealt with by our District Courts," which is interesting simply because they do deal with plats which have everything to do with leasing. But the RRC is "trusting" the industry to tell them when a plat for a well has at least 40 acres leased in order for them to grant a permit.

    Older wells that are in production are already established with lessors receiving royalties over time. There are wells in western Dallas County that were drilled in 2006 that have never been put into production for whatever reason. They seem to have been very exploratory. Wells and Plats that were mapped out 10 years ago were done so without City Ordinances being considered. The RRC maps don't make any of that crystal clear. The RRC doesn't even know what the City Ordinances are. We'v e know. We've asked. Also, the RRC GIS maps are one big, historical document showing all wells permitted over time.

    Is this vertical well you've mentioned in production? We do know that the industry seems to be looking for loopholes in the city ordinances. And they often count on a lack of attention to details and a lack of knowledge from city staff and elected officials.

    Based on what you've written, you should call the Gas Well Permitting Division of the RRC (ask to speak to the Director). He will likely look up the wells in question during the conversation. This will help clarify your questions. Based on what he tells you, you can then request filing a Complaint with the RRC since it sounds as if you believe something is going on that may not be legal. That will set in motion a process that should give you and all of us clarification.

    Thank you for finding a potential loophole. All of our cities need to know about them and revise our Gas Drilling Ordinances, accordingly. Looking forward to learning what you find out. Thanks.

    1. Vesting is not specific to drilling ordinances because it is a rule of law found when any new ordinance is enacted. You think a city ordinance outlawing big box retailers would stop Wal-Mart if the permits were already granted?