Before City Manager Mary Suhm struck a secret side deal with natural gas producer Trinity East to drill on parkland in the Trinity River floodplain, there were two lesser-known gas wells situated in Irving that Dallas stood to collect royalty checks on.
According to Railroad Commission of Texas documents, Irving, the University of Dallas and the city of Dallas are major stakeholders in natural gas wells operated by Trinity East along the other side of the Trinity River, known as the UD-Dallas Gas Units. Seated just off of Tom Braniff Drive, across Highway 114 from the University of Dallas, and about a quarter mile from the Elm Fork of the Trinity River, the wells were drilled in May 2008 and July 2009.
See also: - Mary Suhm Signed a Secret Side Deal to Push for Drilling on Parkland as She Told Council It Would Be Banned - Mary Suhm Screwed Dallas, but Now City Hall Has to Let the Gas Drillers Frack Parkland
One of the wells became a lesson in how drilling for gas, especially for small operators like Trinity East, can become a high-stakes nightmare.
Expro Engineering, a subsidiary of Trinity East, notified the railroad commission in February 2010 that the casing on one of its wells had "parted" or ruptured during fracking operations, which involves blasting a concoction of water, sand and hazardous chemicals into gas-bearing rock a mile or more below the surface at incredible pressures. A letter to the commission indicates Expro shut in the well with what's known as a "frac tree," a stack of valves designed to control the flow of gas from the wellhead.
"We spent considerable time and money trying to correct this problem," the company said in a letter to the commission. "We expect to move back on and make another attempt to complete this well at some time in the future."
Some two months later, Expro wrote to the commission again that it had initiated operations but "experienced mechanical difficulties and may require plugging. Due to potential litigation resulting from failure to protect against offset drainage, we are consolidating the two units, creating the one UD-Dallas Gas Unit."
In other words, Dallas, University of Dallas, Irving and the others would be pooled into a single unit, likely because natural gas would be drawn to the only functioning well from beneath mineral rights owners who could sue, to put it crudely, for sucking the gas out from under them.
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I haven't found any lawsuits filed by mineral rights owners against Expro for "failure to protect against offset drainage." But the failed well may have put the small company in a financial pinch, judging by complaints filed by contractors and heavy equipment companies in Dallas County district court, claiming Expro stiffed them on the bills. Basic Energy, a well-site service company, sued for $138,000 in unpaid invoices. Holt Caterpillar claimed Expro owed it nearly $37,000 for heavy equipment. Baker Hughes, an oilfield services company, said Expro refused to pay a $5,000 bill. All parties, according to court papers, have since settled.
The troublesome gas well, on the other hand, remains shut in. Ramona Nye, a spokesman for the commission, says that according to its records, the casing that ruptured was the steel pipe called the production casing. This casing is set within another steel pipe surrounded by cement, known as surface casing. It is intended to separate frack fluid and natural gas from usable aquifers. This should, Nye says, "eliminate any threat of pollution from the production interval."
"At this time, the operator is evaluating the well to determine if it can be repaired and completed as a producing well or if it must be permanently plugged," Nye wrote in an email to Unfair Park.
Dallas Cothrum of MASTERPLAN, who was represented Trinity East (and, thereby Expro) before the Dallas City Council, says he believes the city of Dallas is still receiving royalty checks on the one functional well. A city spokesman said he was not aware of the city's interest in the well but would look into it.