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Development Gives Some in Fort Worth Gas Pains

With more than 1,000 natural gas wells in the city now and the potential for several thousand more, it's to be expected that some Fort Worth, TX, residents would grow weary of the associated noise, truck traffic and pipeline development in their midst. That doesn't mean they want it to stop.

Earlier this year the city of Fort Worth reconstituted a citizens task force on gas drilling to consider whether rules governing drilling activity and associated development within the city should be changed. There was a previous task force in 2005 and the first one in 2001, back when the bountiful Barnett Shale play was first enticing producers to drill within the city limits, Fort Worth Council member Jungas Jordan told NGI. Back then the city didn't even have rules for drillers.

Since then traffic, compressor noise and the prospect of gas pipelines crossing one's property have moved some citizens to seek a moratorium on leasing in the city. A group with that as its goal protested a few days ago outside of a workshop set to discuss gas pipeline issues. Known as the Fort Worth Coalition for a Reformed Drilling Ordinance (CREDO), the group is worried about the long-term consequences of gas activity in urban areas, according to press reports. Attempts by NGI to contact CREDO through its website were unsuccessful as of press time.

In Fort Worth, a moratorium of gas development would be like putting out a "no trespassing" sign for Santa Claus, many believe.

"A very small segment of our community has asked for a moratorium [on leasing]...A moratorium just isn't practical. It's not pragmatic, and we have no intent to do that," Jordan said.

What the city is doing is tasking citizens with determining what, if any, rules governing producers and their activities should be changed. Bob Riley is chair of the task force assembled by the mayor and city council. He told NGI that right now the main issue with residents seems to be noise from drilling equipment and compressors, followed by right-of-way issues. Some people just don't want pipelines crossing their property. Riley's group has been directed by city council to finish up its work by the end of September and report back.

The group is deliberating over setback requirements, well classifications, environmental impacts, noise from compressors and elsewhere, pipeline rights-of-way, public noticing procedures, the permit application process, road usage and protected uses for areas such as schools and parks.

Sarah Fullenwider, Fort Worth assistant city attorney, said pipeline issues seem to be the biggest concern of citizens today, at least from what she's heard in meetings with citizens and community leaders. While the city adopted a moratorium on leasing back in 2001 for a while before things really took off, that's just not practical today, she said. For one thing, the city would be on the hook for potentially many thousands of dollars in producer and operator contract commitments.

So tweaking the rules seems like the best option to address citizen concerns over all the drilling activity. Tom Edwards is Fort Worth's senior gas well inspector in the planning and development office. "Whatever they decide, that's what we'll do," he said of any task force recommendations that are approved by city council. "How much they end up adopting might put more pressure on us."

Edwards said his office is adequately staffed to handle all of the Barnett-inspired work, but it's tight sometimes. "If we quit going to meetings, we could definitely handle it a lot better...I've spent 50% of my time this week sitting and listening to people talk."

Edwards could be seeing more workers in the field if a Railroad Commission of Texas (RRC) request to the state Legislature for money for five more gas pipeline safety inspectors goes through. RRC Safety Director Mary McDaniel told Fort Worth officials such a request is planned and that if hired, three of the five inspectors could be assigned to the Fort Worth region.

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