Residents concerned about proposed drilling site

Despite a meeting Monday evening between Chesapeake Energy and representatives of the University West Neighborhood Association, a resident said he is still concerned about the university’s proposed natural gas drilling site currently located on campus north of Amon G. Carter Stadium.

Charles Kendall, a member of the University West Neighborhood Association, said he still has concerns about the lease despite the meeting. Kendall said in a telephone interview last week that he has safety concerns about the location of the drilling site.

“If they hit gas, those things do blow up – the chances of that are probably minimal, but there’s still a chance,” Kendall said.

The Fort Worth City Council will vote in November whether to approve the high-impact permit request by Chesapeake that would allow drilling at the proposed site.

Kendall said after the meeting that he felt better about Chesapeake but is disappointed about the lack of communication with the university.

According to an e-mail statement from the university, TCU was extremely strict with Chesapeake regarding guidelines about quality of life issues, including safety, noise, truck traffic and other topics that were considered during the process of signing the natural gas drilling lease. The university signed the lease in August 2007.

In addition, TCU held a series of meetings to allow neighborhoods to address their concerns about the drilling, according to the statement.

“It’s been Chesapeake’s responsibility to continue those discussions with the neighborhood associations along with providing current information,” the statement read.

Joel Burns, City Councilman for District 9, which includes all of TCU and most of the surrounding neighborhoods, said the City Council is scheduled to decide Nov. 11 if Chesapeake will have to move its proposed drilling site.

According a city ordinance, companies that wish to drill a well within 600 feet of a protected class – which in the city of Fort Worth is a residence, religious institution, public building, hospital building school or public park – must apply for a high impact gas well permit.

The permit would require five out of nine votes from City Council members to pass. If accepted, the permit would allow Chesapeake to begin drilling without the consent of property owners, Burns said.

While the city has never turned down a request for a high impact permit, many requests are withdrawn or altered to be submitted again, Burns said.

This permit can be obtained by either written consent from all property owners in the affected drilling area, or it may be granted by the City Council after notice and public hearings.

When reviewing an application for a permit, the City Council considers conflict with the orderly growth and development of the city, alternative well site locations, the health and safety of the public, and recommendations of the gas inspector, according to the ordinance.

Residents within 600 feet of the proposed drill site still have concerns.

Dan McCarty, a member of the Colonial Hills Neighborhood Association gas drilling committee, said last week that even though he believes that Fort Worth and the surrounding counties will benefit from the Barnett Shale, he still has concerns about a drilling site in a “highly concentrated demographic area.”

Robyn Walton, head of the Colonial Hills Neighborhood Association gas drilling committee, said in a telephone interview last week that neither Chesapeake nor TCU wants to share information about their lease agreement.

“We don’t know what the lease is referring to because we don’t have that information,” Walton said.

Walton said even though Colonial Hills has not officially been given a lease, she was told by Chesapeake officials that the Colonial Hills Neighborhood Association would receive the same lease given to the University West Neighborhood Association.

Jerri Robbins, Chesapeake public relations manager, wrote in an e-mail that the current high impact permit application is for three wells on the drill site north of the stadium.

“We do not know if these wells will be drilled consecutively or not,” Robbins added.

Noise will only be a factor during the drilling phase, which takes 24 to 27 days, Robbins said in a telephone interview. Chesapeake uses the latest technology, such a sound blankets and sound walls, to reduce or eliminate noise in their drilling operations, she said.

Burns said he feels the City Council would be obligated to reject a high impact request if the neighborhoods strongly opposes it.

“My request is that if TCU is going to financially benefit from this, they should bear more of a burden on the impact of its location,” Burns said.

He said with the proposed site, the neighborhood will be impacted more than the university, which negotiated the lease with Chesapeake.

Burns said he expressed his concerns to Brian Gutierrez, vice chancellor for finance and administration.

Gutierrez did not return calls and an e-mail requesting comment.

The University West Neighborhood Association is scheduled to meet with representatives from both Chesapeake and possibly TCU at 6:30 p.m. Thursday at University Christian Church, Kendall said.

Staff reporter Travis Brown contributed to this report.