Southlake Drilling


A lot of folks argue passionately that drilling is a positive development and that we need to support drilling and drill now.  Respectfully we disagree.  Below are a list of the most common arguments we hear and why we conclude differently.


They say: But we signed leases and took their checks.  We have to let them drill.


Some Southlake residents did sign leases, and some Southlake residents did not.  But even if all of us did, let’s be clear about what XTO has a right to under the mineral lease.  In exchange for the initial royalty, most leases (and each lease is slightly different) give XTO a three year window to mine the gas under the  surface of our land.  If XTO drills and the well begins to produce, then XTO retains the rights to continue drilling and remove minerals until the property is no longer producing gas in certain quantities.  That means that if XTO does not drill by the end of the three-year period, then the lease either terminates, or they have to pay additional money to hold the lease open for a longer period of time.  (Again, each lease is different - look at yours to see what it says.)


During 2008, when most of the gas companies were buying up mineral leases as fast as they could, the price per Mcf (the unit of measure for natural gas) peaked in July at over $11.32.  This was five to six times the historical average for gas.  Suddenly, the price of gas fell and a mere four months later in November, the price per Mcf of gas was $4.75.  All of the sudden, the hundreds of millions of dollars that the gas companies spent on the mineral leases in Southlake did not look like such a good investment.  As of September 2010, the price per Mcf was at $3.78.


As a result of the drop in natural gas prices, natural gas companies were not in as big of a rush to drill.  So as a result, they waited through the rest of 2008 and 2009.  But then, at some point in 2010, they realized they had a problem.  At the Planning and Zoning Commission hearings on November 18, 2010, one of the Commissioners asked XTO when the three-year period of their leases would begin to expire.  The XTO representative admitted that the first of the leases would start to expire in February 2011 and would continue to do so throughout the rest of the year.


So now XTO and other gas operators are in a bind - if they do not start drilling and start soon, they will either lose leases or they will have to pay more money to the leaseholders to keep the lease open.  Their multi-million dollar investments could go up in smoke.


This predicament is one of XTO’s own making.  XTO waited until some of the leases are almost 3/4th expired and then filed the first permits to drill in mid-2010.   And because of the deadline that they have known about the whole time, XTO is now pushing the City Council to move as fast as they can to rush through the process.


And that brings us back to XTO’s rights under the leases.  For every property where XTO has a lease, XTO has a right to access the minerals under those properties.  But Southlake and its residents have the right to review and approve the manner in which XTO proposes to remove those minerals.  The City Council has a right and a fiduciary duty to ask questions about the chemicals XTO will use.  The City Council has a right and duty to ask questions and receive information about the impact this process will have on our air quality and our surface and ground water.  City Council has the right and the duty to understand how an accident at the site will affect our community and our first responders.  As citizens, we have the right to demand that the City Council determine it is safe before they grant a permit.


And if it is not safe, then we as a community, have the right to tell XTO “No”.


Advocates for drilling in Southlake have stood up during P&Z and Spin meetings, complaining that those people who oppose drilling as proposed are fear-mongers and not well educated on how safe these processes are.  But the public record tells us different.  The cases are out there that the process has dangers, that it makes people sick, that it emits harmful, toxic chemicals.  So we are demanding that before the City Council acts, they know the facts.  If necessary, the City Council should wait on XTO’s SUP until the City Council can retain an expert to consult with the City as to the impact it will have on us.  We must do this right.


Let’s put it another way.  If XTO came to us and told us that the most efficient way to extract the gas out of the ground was to detonate a small nuclear device under our homes, is there any question that everyone would oppose it?  (This example is not that far off - a former gas executive once described fracking as the processing of setting a bomb off underground.)  That is because the method for extracting the gas should be safe.  It can’t destroy our neighborhoods and our community. It can’t ruin our air or poison our streams.  But that is precisely the risk behind allowing hydraulic fracturing into our densely populated areas.


And that brings us to another point.  Remember when the gas company came calling?  They told you that the process was perfectly safe, that other than a little inconvenience, there would be no harm to our community or our neighborhoods.  All of the mounting evidence (which grows daily) suggests that the oil companies did not tell those of us who signed leases  the truth.  And if someone lies to you to get you to sign a contract, you may be able to be released from the contract. 

They say: Drilling is safe. No one has ever proven that hydraulic fracturing is dangerous.

You hear this one from the industry all the time.  You also hear it from well-meaning citizens, some of whom will say, “I worked on an oil rig for fifty years, and there is nothing wrong with me.”  Others will say, “I had an oil or gas well on my property and there were never any problems.”


The fact is that the type of unconventional drilling that is taking place now in the Barnett Shale is different from conventional drilling where a hole is drilled and oil or gas comes out. Several years ago, the gas companies learned that if you drilled down and then horizontally and stimulated the well with hydraulic fracturing, you could fracture the shale and it would release the gas trapped in the shale.  But the combination of the water with the fracking fluids, and the sheer volume of water involved is new.  And the increase in the pollutants into the air is new as well.  And the drilling that is occurring in the Barnett Shale is unprecedented.


As documented on the home page, there a numerous accounts in the Barnett Shale of releases of benzene and volatile organic compounds (VOC).  The EPA Region Administrator and the TCEQ both acknowledge that the air pollution coming from gas wells is equal to all of the automobile pollution in the area.  


At the Bartonville City Council meeting on November 31, 2010, a TCEQ toxicologist explained that the long term effects of exposure to the pollutants and contaminants coming from gas wells is not understood.  As quoted in a recent article of the Denton Record Chronicle, Ms. Bredfeldt stated “The long-term impacts aren’t fully known... There’s a lot of lack of data [on] what is the effect of long-term exposure to chemicals at extremely low levels in groups.” She then encouraged residents to press their elected officials to fund more scientific research on environmental exposures.


The industry has never released any proof of the danger or safety of the process because they have not conducted any meaningful studies.  And why would they?  When they have been given free reign in the way that they have, why do something to make people reconsider whether what you are doing is really safe?  Moreover, if those reports came back and showed the harmful effects of gas drilling, they could be used against them in lawsuits.  So it is easier to look the other way and claim there is no proof it is harmful.  Try this.  Next time you see a representative of XTO, ask him or her to prove that it is safe. 


Unfortunately, evidence is beginning to grow.  Last month, Chris Mobaldi, a woman who spent years in close proximity to numerous gas wells died after a prolonged battle with a rare form of cancer. Drilling rigs were located as close as 300 feet from Ms. Mobaldi’s home. Mobaldi was diagnosed with her first pituitary tumor four years after gas drilling began in the area, and experienced other rare ailments that indicated severe brain damage. Mobaldi’s doctors say that exposure to contaminants from the nearby drilling activities is to blame, but there have been no studies on the long-term health consequences of exposure to fracking chemicals.

They say: This industry is well regulated and possibly the most well regulated industry in the country.


Instead of there being a comprehensive or overarching body of laws and regulations that deal with the processes and chemicals used in the fracturing process, what exists is a patch work of laws, rules and regulations, some of which have significant loopholes passed with the support of the gas industry. 


Consider for a second how complex the process is.  When the toxins and carcinogens in the fracking chemicals are transported through our neighborhoods and down our streets, they are regulated by one set of rules and regulations that are not related to gas drilling.  Once they are injected into the well, they fall into  loopholes that exempt them from certain federal law (see below).  Different rules and regulations apply once they are removed and transported.  And then disposal leads to another set of rules and regulations.


In Texas, two agencies shoulder the responsibility for making sure that gas companies comply with the rules.  One is the Texas Railroad Commission (RRC).  Unfortunately, the RRC is widely viewed to be too lenient on the oil and gas industry and one state legislator calls them “probably the most corrupt regulatory agency in Texas.”  The Texas Sunset Advisory Commission, a state agency tasked with reviewing the performance of the all state commissions every 12 years, issued a report giving the RRC, giving them what what has been described as a “failing grade”. Likewise, News 8 has investigated the RRC for over four years and filed this critical report. 















The other agency is the TCEQ.  As indicated on the home page, there have been numerous complaints about the TCEQ’s failure to enforce Texas’ environmental laws, rules and regulations.


And at the federal level, changes made to the Safe Water Drinking Act in 2005 exempted hydraulic fracturing from regulation under the Act, meaning that hydraulic fracturing is not subject to the same standards as other industries when it comes to protecting underground sources of drinking water. As a result, the EPA is powerless in most instances to impose tougher regulations. 


Look at the ENERGY POLICY ACT OF 2005.  Page 102, Section 322. HYDRAULIC FRACTURING.

Paragraph (1) of section 1421(d) of the Safe Drinking Water Act (42 U.S.C. 300h(d)) is amended to read as follows:
‘‘(1) UNDERGROUND INJECTION.—The term ‘underground injection’—
‘‘(A) means the subsurface emplacement of fluids by well injection; and
‘‘(i) the underground injection of natural gas for purposes of storage; and
‘‘(ii) the underground injection of fluids or propping agents (other than diesel fuels) pursuant to hydraulic fracturing operations related to oil, gas, or geothermal production activities.’’

Likewise the definition of “pollutant” in the Clean Water Act no longer treats the carcinogens and toxins in fracking fluids as a “pollutant” -- it has been written out of the definition.


(6) The term "pollutant" means dredged spoil, solid waste, incinerator residue, sewage, garbage, sewage sludge, munitions, chemical wastes, biological materials, radioactive materials, heat, wrecked or discarded equipment, rock, sand, cellar dirt and industrial, municipal, and agricultural waste discharged into water. This TERM DOES NOT MEAN (A) "sewage from vessels" within the meaning of section 312 of this Act; or (B) water, gas, or other material which is injected into a well to facilitate production of oil or gas, or water derived in association with oil or gas production and disposed of in a well, if the well used either to facilitate production or for disposal purposes is approved by authority of the State in which the well is located, and if such State determines that such injection or disposal will not result in the degradation of ground or surface water resources.  Clean Water Act. SEC. 502 [33 U.S.C. 1362] General Definitions

These systematic attacks on the environmental protection laws mean that the potentially harmful practices of the industry are not regulated in a meaningful way.  The only thing standing between allowing the gas companies to do as they please and the protection of the health, safety and welfare of Southlake is the City Council and you.


They say: We need to drill now!  This will reduce our dependence on foreign oil and lead to energy independence.


Everyone should be in favor of energy independence.  This argument, however, is one that sounds like a good argument, but isn’t. 


Did you know that right now, we have a glut of natural gas?  Not just a small one, but a massive glut of national gas.  As of November 10, the US has over 3.8 trillion Mcf of natural gas.   That’s right, three point eight TRILLION Mcf.  If producing natural gas is the key to energy independence, then we would already be independent. 


The problem is infrastructure.  Until everyone gives up their gasoline cars and manufacturers make natural gas powered cars that everyone wants and uses, you are simply not going to be able to use natural gas as a replacement for the traditional fossil fuels that power America.  And other industries that are gas-based cannot just flip a switch and begin to use natural gas. 


Here is the irony in all of this.  Do you know what we do with the surplus natural gas when we pull it out of the ground?  We put it in a pipeline and send it to a storage facility, where it will be put back into the ground!  At great cost to the environment, all we are doing is moving the gas from one part of the country to the other.


For this reason, a number of advocates have suggested that we “bank” the gas and leave it where it is.  It is not going anywhere.  We do not need it right now.  Save it until we need it.  If we did that, then as much as the gas industry touts its constant advances in technology, wouldn’t it be great if we could leave the gas where it is and then see what advancements are made in natural gas drilling technology between now and the time that we need it?  It’s a radical idea, but one that makes a lot of sense.

Did you buy your house in Southlake for the minerals?  What will a 15% drop in property value cost you?  Ask Flower Mound which is in a lawsuit with Titan.