Fear and Fracking in Southlake

In one of America's wealthiest suburbs, an unlikely band of drilling opponents helped drive away the world's biggest energy companies. Did they save the town or ruin it?

Chesapeake Energy, a rising juggernaut in the Barnett, was the first to approach Rucker. The company let that lease expire. Then ExxonMobil-owned XTO came along, and left a check on the table for nearly $300,000 — a mere enticement for what was to come. The way she explains it, with one proposed site to the south and the Milner site to the north, their lateral fracks would be shattering shale beneath her land. They needed her.

But things quickly got complicated. The site to the south, on the sprawling property of a man named Joe Wright, was proposed to spud 1,200 feet from Kim Davis' home, as a compromise to get it farther from Grapevine High School. With its proximity to Timarron and the tanks full of combustible fuel, these safety concerns conspired to scuttle the deal.

Standing between Rucker and her new revenue stream were city council members who, amidst swirling discord in their usually tranquil town hall, were moving cautiously. The planning and zoning committee had already failed to approve the Milner site in November 2010, and in February of this year, another effort to green-light drilling at the Wright site near Davis' home failed. But the Milner proposal didn't die. In a bizarre twist that smelled of political machinations to some on the committee, the city attorney declared the failed motion insufficient. The committee, the city attorney wrote, hadn't specifically denied the application. The ruling drew a collective head scratch, but the result was clear: XTO could commence drilling the Milner site near Aalund's home.

A natural-gas well, like this one in Weatherford, would have gone up 1,200 feet from the home of Southlake mom Kim Davis. Chesapeake Energy claims regulation championed by Davis kept the company out of the suburb.
ZUMA Ralph Lauer/ZUMAPRESS.com
A natural-gas well, like this one in Weatherford, would have gone up 1,200 feet from the home of Southlake mom Kim Davis. Chesapeake Energy claims regulation championed by Davis kept the company out of the suburb.
ExxonMobil CEO Rex Tillerson (left) and XTO founder Bob Simpson testify before Congress about the controversial drilling process called "fracking."
James Berglie/ZUMApress.com
ExxonMobil CEO Rex Tillerson (left) and XTO founder Bob Simpson testify before Congress about the controversial drilling process called "fracking."

The anti-drilling faction struck back. Aalund's newly formed group, Southlake Taxpayers Against Neighborhood Drilling (STAND), took the city to court and won a temporary restraining order preventing drilling at the Milner site.

But the controversy turned out to be a moot one. Shortly after the court ruling, XTO stunned Southlake, announcing that the temporarily restrained Milner site was no longer "financially feasible." It reclaimed its six-figure check from Zena Rucker's table and pulled out of Southlake altogether. Under increasing pressure, the city extended a moratorium on new drilling permits into November while it revised the city ordinance that regulated fracking, from air quality monitoring to setbacks from public parks.

Aalund, Davis and STAND were elated. Rucker and Bob Gray, the spokesman for a pro-drilling group, said the anti-drillers and the city council had just cost Southlake and its inhabitants untold sums. Meanwhile, the mayor and city council consulted with experts, its neighbor cities and the public, attempting to learn from the mistakes made by municipalities during the heady days of a play moving into increasingly urban, uncharted territories — cities like Flower Mound, which opted for setbacks from houses of 1,500 feet, but only after dozens of wells were sunk within its borders. They used as a template Southlake's negotiations with XTO and the "laundry list" of concessions the company willingly made: Things like continuous air monitoring and pre- and post-drilling testing of all water wells within 2,000 feet. "What we tried to do," Mayor John Terrell says, "was take what they had agreed to and codify it."

On October 18, the night the city council was set to vote on the revised ordinance, the citizens of Southlake began arriving, anxious to find out what the ordinance would hold, and what it would mean for both sides. Aalund was there. So was Rucker. At the outset, the city attorney warned the council that enacting too burdensome an ordinance could amount to what's known as a "regulatory taking" — the legal term for what happens when laws prevent mineral rights owners and leaseholders from developing the natural resources beneath them. Mineral rights owners in town had threatened litigation if the council passed an ordinance containing setbacks so large that they effectively banned drilling in Southlake. But municipalities have long been given free rein to regulate themselves, and there's almost zero settled case law placing the city in danger of an unfavorable ruling. Terrell said it was a very real threat that weighed heavily in the council's deliberations. Anti-drillers characterized it as a last-minute, desperate scare tactic.

Residents for and against filed up to the podium to make their positions known, though by stalling the process and driving XTO out of town, there was the unshakable sense that Rucker and the others had already lost.

"I think the ordinance, as it's currently written, is going to kill drilling in Southlake," said Steve Oren, a composed, well-dressed elderly man.

"This could be a very important source of income for my family, my children," Jim McCutcheon said. "My real problem is the bigger picture. I've been to three of these meetings and each seems to deal with more and more restrictions."

Too much regulation here in Southlake, he continued, was simply the state of America writ small.

Disgusted with the pace of the proceedings and the lateness of the hour, Rucker stalked out before she could speak. But her comment card was eventually read aloud, and it conveyed her opposition to the proposed ordinance, which would keep the 1,000-foot setback between drilling rigs and homes, prohibit fracking during summer months due to the drought's impact on the water supply and establish a 300-foot setback from ignition sources like Joe Wright's tank farm.

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75 comments
Paddymc
Paddymc

Good for southlake. Hmmm....new fire engines and computers, etc while possibly poisoning yourself and your children.

I'm amazed that so many are so blind to the potential dangers of tracking. Unbelievable! Aesbestos was once declared safe. So was lead paint. DDT...the list can go on and on.

Too bad southlake is an island surrounded by drilling and they are breathing polluted air anyway.

Staff Iran-Conoco
Staff Iran-Conoco

As of December 2011 Turley is attempting to back out of his suit seeking $10,000,000,000 against Devon Energy Production Company, L.P. (If Turley is doing this for his usual 33-40% contingency fee, then he stands to make some serious money on the backs of his clients.) However, recently filed court documents show that Turley may have committed yet another fraud upon a federal court (See http://Iran-Conoco-Affair.US) in basing his lawsuit on a questionable groundwater contamination report ("8/4/10 Test Results," Exhibit A to Plaintiff's Response to Devon Energy Production Company, L.P.'s Motion for Summary Judgment, filed December 14, 2011). The report appears to have been generated by "TTI Environmental Laboratories" an Arlington company Texas Secretary of State records show forfeited its corporate existence on April 9, 2010, several months before it claims it took water samples for the tests on the Harris' property.

While Devon's attorneys should investigate and prosecute Turley's apparent fraud, recent cases against Turley and his cronies at Baron & Budd, P.C. (See http://TexasBarWatch.US) suggest that they will avoid the controversy and move on to the next case for which they can over-bill Devon shareholders.

EndFrackingNOW
EndFrackingNOW

Your article disgusts me. Your stereotyping of Southlake is no different than if I said Dallas was populated entirely by low-income minorities.

I don't have blonde highlights, don't have green eyes, don't have a soft voice, and don't drive an expedition.

I am a single mother struggling to put my kids through school here because it's a GREAT community to live in.

And if you think this town hasn't had it's share of recession impacts, you came in here with blinders on.

Many people in Southlake don't want the drilling because we've researched it and know how bad it is. Why don't you run a piece on the dozen or so families in Dimock, PA who have no water because of contamination from fracking AND the O&G gas company stopped delivering clean water to them?

Or go interview the families in the community in Flower Mound that make up 20% of all cancer cases in Denton County. Guess what that small community lives near...that's right, a drilling site.

"The women here often get together to play bunco in each other's living rooms and tennis at the country club..." WHATEVER...

Every woman I know here works hard...very hard...

Shame on you for creating class warfare...

Go do something useful with your time. If not, then go write movie reviews...your verbosity is better suited there...

Caleb50
Caleb50

The description of the place sounds ghastly.

NGO website development
NGO website development

What caused Google to ban your website? There are numerous factors that can trigger Google to either penalize your website by pushing it far down the line in the rankings, or to ban it entirely and remove it from Google, as well as other Google partner sites.

Tracy
Tracy

I wish I could afford to live in Southlake. Instead, I'm stuck in Dirty ol' Fort Worth.

Todd Gamble
Todd Gamble

I cannot wait to move away from Southlake. Had I known this little place was populated mostly with yankees and born agains, we never would have bought a house here. Most of these moms who consider themselves "self taught petroleum engineers" can't even operate the Carroll school system's Skyward application to monitor their kid's progress in school, much less use Excel or Word. But if you want to have an extramarital affair, join a bible study class at Gateway or White's Chapel -- they all use the convenient excuse that the devil was trying to upset their wonderful life (time and time again).

Milner, Wright and Rucker are now living in a locale they couldn't have imagined twenty years ago.

primi_timpano
primi_timpano

I would guess the fault lines were between mineral owners, especially owners will lots of acreage, and non=mineral owners, or those with very minimal acreage. Next time follow the money.

dancoroo
dancoroo

Google Fracking then find the list of "some chemicals" that are pumped into the ground. Nasty, Nasty, Nasty stuff. The water that is being used is now polluted with those same chemicals. The energy companies are relying on our out of sight out of mind mentalities. There are places in the US where these chemicals are coming to the surface.

Louschell
Louschell

Why can't we get on board with renewable energy? Drilling is a short term fix to a long term problem.

Darrd2010
Darrd2010

Those who are not informed, tend to favor the industry much like the banking industry. Loose regulations and only the industry makes the big money while those who sit at home with credit card debt jump at the prospect of a $75 a month check. In time, the true price will ask to be paid with our health and environmental costs. Then what?

It's coming. Watch for it, now breathe deeply.

Dallasdrilling.wordpress.com

MattL1
MattL1

It never ceases to amaze me that people think you can extract large quantities of hydrocarbons from deep below ground without there being some sort of environmental consequences.

Flower Mound Resident
Flower Mound Resident

Urban gas drilling is exploitation at its best. At an all-time market low, O&G gets to pay the mineral rights owner a pittance while exporting LNG at 3-4 times the US cost. They get to use our roads and tap into Atmos conveniently, while residents suffer the pain.

Way to go to Kim Davis (I too am a conservative, far-to-the-right Republican, but care more about the environment than money or politics); Auland, Diane Harris, et. Al. Of S.T.A.N.D.

SouthlakeCitizen
SouthlakeCitizen

Let's not forget that one site was approved in Southlake (under very questionable circumstances that residents legally challenged) The second site was not approved by a super-majority vote, meaning the vote was 5 councilmembers in favor 2 opposed. Those 2 councilmembers have taken the heat and have been threatened by those who were blinded by greed and a few paltry royalty dollars. XTO ultimately made the "financial decision" to leave Southlake because it wasn't worth it to drill one site. Simply put: XTO is a corporation concerned most with their bottom line...NOT being the "good neighbor" their ads like to exclaim.

WCGasette
WCGasette

It is not hypocritical to understand that this activity ~ drilling, fracking, compressor stations, gas gathering pipelines, all the infrastructure necessary to operate a shale gas industrial plant in our neighborhoods ~ is wrong. Shale gas drilling and fracking are wrong everywhere since all of it is creating major issues for our environment and the earth. We need to get off this fossil fuel train as soon as possible.

anonymous
anonymous

southlake does not allow apartments either. a silly, snobbish, sterile surburb that thinks cities take it seriously.

Willie
Willie

Wow, you might want to light some candles and get the vibrator out.

Timothy R. Ruggiero
Timothy R. Ruggiero

Give it a few more years, you'll be able to afford it. Just like what Bartonville has turned into, high dollar homes that are now worthless-to the point where quite a few of the homeowners simply left. You can't drive a block in Bartonville without passing a For Sale sign. Hmmm, I wonder why?

WCGasette
WCGasette

You don't need to be a Petroleum Engineer to know that shale gas drilling and fracking are bad.

WCGasette
WCGasette

Maybe. But when you live in a neighborhood you don't have large acreage and you certainly don't want to have pad sites at the borders and entryways. "Mineral owners" with small acreage are definitely not the same as mineral owners with large parcels of land. But then the industry doesn't mind people thinking that no matter how much land they have they will "get rich." Southlake understood that early on. We should all have been so lucky. The large landowners in any city or town will be the ones the industry wants to lease first. Then they can influence the rest of the townfolk to get on board. Then they can move when they realize their land is ruined forever...leaving the mess for those who aren't as able to get out.

BHargrove
BHargrove

From my reporting, primi, I didn't see it break down so clearly between those with mineral rights and those without. Many of the younger folks with kids, as the story notes, own their mineral rights and were paid well -- though certainly not as much as Joe Wright and Zena Rucker, who are much bigger landowners.

Frank E
Frank E

Sorry, you are completely wrong. At the depth of the drilling in the Barnett Shale the chemicls will NEVER come to the surface. If you think so then why isn't the oil/gas coming to the surface? As far as the "bad chemicals" are concerned I don't think there is anything worse than what is down beneath the surface already, such as H2S. This H2S is a very very bad "chemical. H2S is oderless, clear, and super deadly. One breath and you die. Absolutely there are risks to drilling, but there are greater risks in everyday life, and everyone takes those risks as part of living. No, please don't say that these everyday risks are risks that people must take in order to carry out their daily lives because they aren't. Drilling in Southlake is a good thing over all. The revenues will generate a lot of money for the schools and other things to make Southlake a great place to raise a family. I suggest people do their own homework on this subject by asking our neighboring cities who have allowed drilling to take place what they think.

Frank E
Frank E

My God Louschell, Haven't you learned anything about "Green" energy after the Solyndra and Evergreen debacle? Both companies went bankrupt because it is too expensive to produce solar energy. Today the news stated that Solyndra's solar panels would generate electral power in the range of .60+cents /Kwh compared to around .05 cents/Kwh with coal fired power plants. Biofuels are in the same boat. There has not been any "break throughs" in these types of energy producers to make producing energy through other means financially viable. Also, drilling is NOT a short term fix. There is enough gas/oil to last centuries if we could get the likes of the "No Drilling" people out of the way and let progress move us.

Frank E
Frank E

Oh please! Greed had nothing to do with wanting to harvest what is rightfully the land owners resources. The neighboring cities have drilled gas wells all over their cities and nothing negative has happened. That's right NO flaming water coming out of the faucets in their houses. There is a gas well drilled just immidiately west of Tarrant County College NE and you can't hardly tell it is there. I have seen scare tactics like the ones being used by those against drilling before and it is a shame that people believe those things. I am not saying nothing can happen, but if it does it will not be a major catastrophe. The residents will probably not even know anything happened. I compare the scare tactics used against drilling to be in the same catagory as the Democrats saying babies will die if we cut back aid to dependent mothers--All the while promoting abortions. HA! WHAT A JOKE.

WCGasette
WCGasette

The shale gas industry loves to drill and frack near apartment communities. They sign the mineral leases with the apartment owners who don't live near the industrial activity. The apartment renters may not know about the carcinogens in the air. They certainly won't be told about any of it. I'm certain that those living in Southlake who understand all of this wouldn't wish it on any community.

em4jim
em4jim

@Willie = incapable of intelligent discourse

BringIt
BringIt

Interesting how you attacked the only intelligent response...

...and if it were a choice between that and you, she'd probably consider it...

Edgar
Edgar

It's frequently noted (or at least argued) that those who oppose drilling are probably ones who own no mineral rights and thus stand nothing to gain. It's probably not surprising that this observation does not hold true in Southlake. A few thousand bucks per mineral acre and a modest royalty income stream means less the wealthier one is. The affluent can afford to oppose drilling without paying close attention to either its merits or its pitfalls. That doesn't help us answer the question of whether fracking is, in fact, unsafe.

Scott Roberts
Scott Roberts

"At the depth of the drilling in the Barnett Shale the chemicls will NEVER come to the surface. If you think so then why isn't the oil/gas coming to the surface?"

Mmmmm, because there isn't currently 5000 lbs per square inch of water pressure down there blowing the ground apart. And because there are no wells/pipes crammed down there trying to bring stuff up to the surface.

em4jim
em4jim

@Frank E  What matter that the major contributor to air polution in the Ft.Worth area is being created by the natural gas industry ?  Just drill baby drill and get all your information from vested interests !

WCGasette
WCGasette

Really do need to re-read your really bad research. They did not go bankrupt because of the reasons you have cited. The O&G Industry doesn't want any of these breakthroughs. Solar is ready to go unless O&G destroys it.

em4jim
em4jim

@Frank E   "I am not saying nothing can happen, but if it does it will not be a major catastrophe"  Really, have some data to go along with your suppositions?

Darrd2010
Darrd2010

Poor Frank. Try raising a family in an industrial zone. Health effects are already happening throught out our area. Ask some folks about their breathing problems year round in Texas. This drilling procedure is so new, that it may be another 5 years before we begin to realize the long term effects. I'll bet you smoke cigarettes. No? Remember how long it took from the Marlboro man to banning smoking in public spaces?

WCGasette
WCGasette

Nothing negatively has happened? Actually, there have been numerous violations near Tarrant County College site this summer ~ that we know about. Or didn't you hear about Chesapeake trucking Arlington water from a fire hydrant at the Sublett and 360 pad site to the Harvey site in Grand Prairie? You didn't know? There were likely other incidences that weren't caught on camera. So, pay attention, Frank. They were caught by a citizen. Grand Prairie was under water restrictions that included no drilling and no fracking. Even being in a severe drought didn't seem to matter to Arlington or Fort Worth. It's clear that you may be trapped in 2007 ~ when the gas operators moved in to spread their good cheer to neighborhoods and Tommy Lee Jones encouraged everyone to "get on board." Well, it's 2011, Frank, and people are finally starting to realize that turning our neighborhoods into industrial zones was never part of that "get on board," discussion.

Frank E
Frank E

There you go again. Frear tactics. There is less carcinogens produced by drilling a gas well than produced by cars driving up and down the streets, or by all the thousands of Southlake residents having their lawns sprayed for insects, or spraying herbicides. The truth is the people of Southlake have a right to drill on their property if they want. The city could stand to make millions of dollars in revenue if drilling was allowed. We have high enough taxes already. Driling is a win win proposition for Southlake residents. Our schools would benefit tremendously with the revenue generated.

dixiebelle88
dixiebelle88

and we all know that the residents of southlake, 'who understand all,' deny apartments out of compassion for the renters, 'who may not know,' own good. add 'sanctimonious' to the above description.

WCGasette
WCGasette

Oh, like the less affluent can't "afford" to debate its merits or its pitfalls?? That's ridiculous.

em4jim
em4jim

@Frank E There you go again, misinformation and supposition.

WCGasette
WCGasette

No, Frank. The City can make rules to "protect" the citizens from harm. The pollution released by the shale gas drilling is just one of the very harmful effects. Health and enjoyment of your home should trump any amount of money. The gas operators swooped in and handed out money to municipalities, churches and school boards, bought their silence and helped write the Ordinances that "encouraged" drilling.

WCGasette
WCGasette

I doubt very seriously that the industry would like to pit itself against home rule. When push comes to shove, anyway. It's truly a matter of cities determining what kind of businesses and development they want in their jurisdictions. It's all about protecting the citizens. The more and more awareness of all of this...the more difficult it will be. Leaving Southlake is one sign of that change. The "mineral estate" is different in every state. Texas wrote these laws saying the mineral estate was "dominant" early on. Not all states have this same law. Once we move away from the worship of fossil fuels...the "mineral estate" will be a thing of the past. The industry loves to threaten cities with this stuff.

WCGasette
WCGasette

I hope you are able to live in your micro-ecosystem someday all by yourself. You obviously aren't looking at this issue up close and personal or you wouldn't be so arrogant about it.

Edgar
Edgar

"...we all drink the same water and we all breathe the same air."

I swear I'm gonna live in my own micro-ecosystem someday. Not to avoid fracking, but to refute this lame-ass cliche so no one has to hear it anymore.

Guest
Guest

"Southlake has every right to build out their city as they wish"

Not necessarily true. They are limited through pre-emption by the state and fedral governement and they also may not condemn the dominant mineral estate.

WCGasette
WCGasette

That's funny. Clearly, a college "English" lit teacher with such disdain for a community that has managed to keep shale gas drilling "out," is an English teacher who doesn't keep up with the latest information about all of it. Learning should be a life-long process. Especially for educators. Paradise has many definitions. In the Barnett Shale, "Paradise" is a city that isn't built-out with pad sites. It's a city that doesn't have its citizens living down-wind of multiple pad sites or even one pad site housing the multiple produced water tanks for holding the poisonous water that comes back up from the fracking and must then be periodically "vented" onsite or these tanks will explode; or within a few hundred feet of compressor stations; or surrounded by gas gathering pipelines that criss-cross the community to get the gas to market...which now means it's going overseas as Liquid Natural Gas. Ah, Paradise.

dixiebelle88
dixiebelle88

close. i am a college english lit teacher.

since southlake is not a suburb of my city, i actually have no interest in whether it fracks or does not frack. just a natural revulsion to emotional 'experts,' overly self-focused, all-anglo residents of traffic-clogged former farmland, now filled with bloated houses, surrounded by shopping, whose culture center is a high school football stadium.

enjoy your paradise.

WCGasette
WCGasette

Interesting. You must be with the industry. Sounds like a whole lotta sour grapes that there are no "easy" avenues for drilling and fracking in Southlake.

Blaming the city for not having apartments as being some kind of "snobbery," and as being "sanctimonious." It's probably one of the main reasons there is NO fracking and drilling there. Apartment developers are some of the first landowners to lease the minerals...as we've discovered elsewhere.

Southlake, TX has every right to build out their city as they wish...all home rule cities have that power.

Roadblocks for this massive shale gas drilling campaign are always more than welcome in the Barnett Shale since we all drink the same water and we all breathe the same air.

 
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