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Hearing on Fort Worth Drilling Proposal Draws Crowd

Fort Worth City Council members got an earful Tuesday night from a standing-room-only audience about a proposal to tighten drilling restrictions in the Barnett Shale town. Protected use areas, multiple well pad site permitting and saltwater disposal are among the items being weighed.

Most of the 200 or so in attendance at the council's public hearing -- 90%, according to one attendee's estimate -- oppose the changes, and most of them think they're too strict and will stifle energy and economic development. Council was scheduled to vote on the drilling ordinance revisions Tuesday (Oct. 25), but that is unlikely as several members said they need more time to digest input from the public and industry.

"I don't at this point feel very comfortable about taking a vote next week," council member Kathleen Hicks said following the public comment session on the proposed changes, which can be viewed at www.fortworthtexas.gov/gaswells.

Members Salvador Espino and Joel Burns also expressed a need for more time to consider changes to the ordinance. "It's a very difficult balance, and it's not an easy job..." said Espino. "This is not an easy process..."

A long-running moratorium on saltwater injection within the city expires at the end of the month. "...[O]bviously, we're going to have to act in some sort of way next week to deal with that moratorium..." said Burns. "I think that we should put some more effort into this, more so than trying to wrap it up by the artificial deadline [of] Oct. 31st."

Libby Willis, president of the Fort Worth League of Neighborhoods, said for the last 10 years the city has had a moratorium on saltwater injection wells with a brief suspension in 2006. Operators have been trucking their wastewater out of the city for disposal. Why change the moratorium now, she asked, when the city can require operators to take advantage of developing technology that allows the recycling of drilling wastewater.

She told council members that city oversight of gas drilling activity is even more important following state budget cuts that have affected the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality. She also said many residents are even willing to wait for the development of minerals in their community -- which they do want to happen -- until drilling technology allows the development to take place far away from their homes.

However, speaker Robert Lindholm cited a recent study by The Perryman Group on the economic benefits that North Texas derives from Barnett Shale development (see Shale Daily, Sept. 28) and said about 9% of the jobs in the region are related to the natural gas industry, including his.

"Anything that has an adverse effect on our economy has an adverse effect on us," Lindholm told the council. "Please don't let a small minority of discontented community activists drive our companies to other shale plays because of the rising cost of doing business in Fort Worth. Please keep the Barnett Shale and Fort Worth's economy strong."

Lindholm's comments were greeted by a round of applause from the audience.

While still well off last year's activity level, drilling in the Barnett Shale has been rising over the past few weeks, according to NGI's Shale Daily Unconventional Rig Count. For the week ending Oct. 14, 61 rigs were actively drilling within the play, which is a 27% drop from the 84 rigs that were operating during the same period last year. However, the 61 rigs mark an 8% increase over the 56 that were drilling at the end of September.

Despite the drop in rig activity, dry natural gas production from the Barnett Shale during the first half of this year increased 6% compared with the year-ago period. Total liquids production was up 7%, mainly on a 12% gain in oil production, according to recent data from the Texas Railroad Commission (see Shale Daily, Sept. 6). Clearly, producers there are doing more with less, and it's because they have "learned by doing."

The Barnett is a good example of what can be expected from a mature play. The basin's production for the first half (1H) of 201l at 5.35 Bcf/d, outpaced the 5.06 Bcf/d produced in 1H 2010 by 6%. The bulk of the gain was in gas well gas.

"You're talking about a play that operators know a lot about now," Ken Medlock, an energy fellow at Houston's Rice University, told NGI's Shale Daily in September. "The Barnett has been a heavily drilled structure, so people have very good geologic maps, good contour maps. They know where to go."

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