Fear and Fracking in Southlake

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Kim Davis lives with her husband and three children in a spacious, red-brick house at the end of a cul de sac in Southlake's ritzy Timarron development. Practically everybody knows everybody here, and she doesn't mind if her neighbors scold her kids if they get out of line. The women here often get together to play bunco in each other's living rooms and tennis at the country club, which is just down the road and whose luscious golf course was designed by PGA great Byron Nelson.

The Davises moved here seven years ago from another place that might have been on Beck's shortlist: Orange County, California. They loved the fact that they could look out from the backyard and see rolling green pasture and grazing cattle. This was their own little slice of heaven at the end of a quiet street in a quiet town, where the only real racket comes from the $15 million, state-of-the-art Dragon Stadium during football season.

Davis has clear green eyes, softly highlighted, shoulder-length hair and a delicate voice. On a November morning, she sits at her dining room table, sipping iced tea as her maid vacuums in the next room. Her husband, who leases commercial trucks, is at work, her children in school.

It was in early 2008 that someone at the Timarron Homeowner's Association presented her with a lease agreement it had negotiated with XTO, a subsidiary of ExxonMobil, then emerging as one of the Barnett Shale's big players. XTO planned to sink a well in the pasture framed by her back window. Whether or not they signed, she remembers being told, XTO was going to drill. Her family might as well benefit. They agreed to the terms and accepted a check for close to 10 grand without reservation. Texas' own Tommy Lee Jones had exhorted them in gravelly tones to "get behind the Barnett Shale" in a Chesapeake Energy spot. How controversial could it be?

Two years passed without incident, and without drilling. In the summer of 2010, she and her husband were relaxing on the couch when they came across Gasland, the documentary that brought fracking into the public consciousness. They stopped surfing and settled in. She listened to residents of Pennsylvania towns on the Marcellus Shale complain of health problems they believed were caused by well water contaminated by fracking. She watched a Colorado man ignite his tap water with a cigarette lighter. And she thought, How awful. But the lifelong, card-carrying Republican was suspicious, too. "I thought it had to have some sort of liberal agenda," she says. Once the credits rolled, she didn't lose much sleep.

Soon, though, she got a call from a neighbor. XTO planned to drill its well 1,200 feet from her back door, the neighbor said, with a 3-acre pad site to accommodate 21 wellheads. Suddenly, the abstraction of a well somewhere out in that pasture became concrete. Soon she was searching the Internet and reading everything she could find on fracking.

"I read about Dish, Texas," she says, referring to the heavily drilled North Texas town that renamed itself for free satellite TV. The town's mayor fled because of health concerns he blamed on natural gas drilling. "And in Flower Mound they have a cancer cluster, but no one could prove it was because of the gas companies. I read about kids, and they had drilling sites next to schools, and the kids were having nosebleeds when they practiced outside for band."

She also read a study commissioned by the City of Southlake to evaluate the potential danger posed by a battery of ethanol, gasoline and diesel tanks just a few hundred feet from the proposed pad site, where land would be graded and a layer of gravel would be laid down. Her heart sank when she saw a satellite photo of the proposed site: Her home was within one of the concentric rings of a dispersion model predicting the spread of combustible gas in the event of a blowout.

She met Sharon Wilson, a blogger, outspoken critic of the industry and regional organizer for environmental group Earthworks. She met Dish Mayor Calvin Tillman, who told her his story face to face.

Now she was losing sleep, though it seemed for a time like she was the only one. She phoned a friend and wept. It was like nobody in Southlake knew what was going on, and if they did, they didn't seem to care. Or worse, she thought, they wanted the drilling.

"You find out that there are people whose kids your kids go to school with, and they're for it. There's just not enough information out there to decide if it's safe or not safe, so why would you take a chance with my family?" she says. "Whose child has to get sick?"

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Brantley Hargrove

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