With some North Texas residents less than enthusiastic about the growing impact of natural gas production in the Barnett Shale, the Texas Railroad Commission (RRC) has begun a public awareness campaign to address stakeholder concerns.

The Barnett Shale, which is estimated to hold at least 26 Tcf of gas, so far has created 55,000 permanent jobs in the 18 counties surrounding the Fort Worth area, and it has generated an annual economic benefit for the area of more than $5 billion, according to the RRC. However, the incredible growth has a downside, and protests by area residents and area municipalities are growing about the noise from drilling rigs, the destruction of roads and traffic congestion. To ensure that there is an ongoing dialogue between the stakeholders and regulators to address the concerns, the RRC appointed Commissioner Victor Carillo to begin meeting with those affected.

Carillo said that in the coming months he will meet with city and county leaders throughout the Barnett Shale region “to listen to their concerns and suggestions and to discuss areas of mutual cooperation and improvement.”

Carillo, who was recently appointed by the U.S. Secretary of Energy to a national advisory committee on unconventional resources, said he wanted to “advance a better understanding of our agency’s work in the Barnett Shale region. As a former practicing geoscientist, I am particularly interested in the responsible development of this important natural gas resource. While Texas has a long tradition of oil and gas production in urban areas going back many decades, I realize that this is a new issue for many residents in the Fort Worth metroplex.”

Public protests have risen since the Barnett drilling began to push into more urban environments, and several municipalities, including Fort Worth, revised or enacted gas drilling ordinances that set noise limits and establish penalties (see NGI, June 11). Last week, the city of Fort Worth granted a permit to Chesapeake Energy Corp. to locate a gas well pad on the “Trinity Trees” site near the Trinity River, a popular destination for outdoor enthusiasts. More than 1,200 people signed a petition opposing Chesapeake’s original plan for the site, and about 400 people turned out for a public meeting in September.

Permits for high-impact wells require all affected property owners within 600 feet to sign a waiver allowing the well; the only affected property owner was the Tarrant Regional Water District, which agreed to the waiver. The land is zoned for industrial use, and the previous owner had received permission to put an office park there, which would have required removing almost all the trees.

Chesapeake, which paid more than $15 million for eight acres, agreed to shrink the drilling site by 44%, to 1.4 acres from 2.3 acres to preserve more trees. The permit will allow Chesapeake to drill for gas within 200 feet of the hiking and cycling trail along the river. Chesapeake and other operators also are seeking permits to drill for gas beneath Fort Worth’s Union Pacific rail yard, Colonial Country Club and homes in the Colonial and Alamo Heights neighborhoods.

RRC regional inspections in the Barnett Shale have doubled to 14,194 in fiscal 2007 from 7,397 inspections in fiscal 2002. Inspections in Tarrant County, TX, where Fort Worth is located, rose more than 700% to 713 in fiscal 2007 from 100 in fiscal 2002. The growth has led the RRC to reassign field staff positions to district offices that cover the Barnett Shale from less active areas of the state. In addition, on Sept. 1, RRC changed its Barnett Shale field oversight to enhance the inspection process and to respond to emergencies and citizen complaints in the field.

In addition to the increased inspections, the RRC also is facing a looming wastewater disposal problem associated with the gas play. Because of an increase in applications from producers for new saltwater disposal facilities, the RRC has begun urging operators to dispose of saltwater waste in the Ellenberger formation. In addition to being below the Barnett Shale reservoir, the Ellenberger formation contains fewer oil and gas well penetrations and is located farther from freshwater zones, the RRC noted.

The RRC developed a page on its website to answer residents’ frequently asked questions about gas exploration and production in their communities. For information, visit www.rrc.state.tx.us/barnettshale/index.html.

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