The town of Mansfield has at least 200 gas wells, some of which are dangerously far away from any serene neighborhoods with nice houses and cute children playing in the backyard. Luckily, some home developers are ready to change that. Locals have spotted a few signs lately advertising planned housing developments adjacent to fracking wells, and that's perfectly OK under city law.
Housing developments in Mansfield that are already built can be no less than 300 feet from a fracking well. But the rules will be different for the new neighborhoods still under construction. In April, Mansfield passed an ordinance explicitly allowing developers to build single-family dwellings within 300 feet of an existing drill site, as long as the developer writes on the plat in the home contract, "LOTS_ ARE LOCATED WITHIN 300 FEET OF AN APPROVED GAS DRILL SITE." The text of those plat warnings must be "framed in a bold line so as to be distinctly visible, in capital letters and minimum size of fourteen (14) point," because the tough-ass mofos who run this city don't play around.
While gas drillers are kept out of Dallas neighborhoods with a law requiring a 1,500-foot buffer zone between drilling and homes, our suburban neighbors have not been as fortunate. Denton, where homeowners are now getting arrested in anti-fracking protests, is only the highest-profile example. In Mansfield, the law normally requires a 600-foot buffer zone between drilling and sensitive areas like homes, or just 300 feet if a property owner signs a waiver.
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Lance Irwin of Mansfield Gas Well Awarness, a local grassroots group, took photographs this weekend of planned housing developments less than 300 feet from the wells, being built by developers Ryland Homes and Megatel Homes. And in May, Mansfield City Council passed a zoning change allowing a new neighborhood called Baker Estates to be built near a site operated by XTO. "An existing XTO gas well site is within this property," the Mansfield ordinance says. "According to the concept plan, the lots would be separated from the gas well site by either a street or open space buffer."
Stephen Lindsey, a Mansfield councilman with experience working in the oil and gas industry, is an opponent of setbacks. He argues that if a well is unsafe, then whatever distance a person lives away won't change that. "The gas well site is there first, so what you have is, you have that encroachment, you have home development moving into where a gas well location is, and if you pull up the public hearing testimony even for these developments that occurred, I articulated several points during that meeting," that he says summarizes his points best. He says that international fire code establishes the minimum distances between fracking wells and homes at around 100 feet.
Irwin says that in the home development pictured above, the plot appeared to be within 60 feet of the well. Lindsey would not comment on the distance but said the well isn't currently being fracked. He identified the rig in the photograph as a work-over rig, not a drilling rig.
"It's nowhere as onerous as drilling activity because a work-over drill has to work between daylight hours essentially," Lindsey says, though if the driller wanted to begin re-fracking that well at some point, they would still be allowed to do that.