Official: Gas drilling could start before year’s end

Editor’s note: A response from Chesapeake was added to this story at 8:14 p.m. April 29.

Drilling for Chesapeake Energy Corporation’s master development plan could begin sometime before the end of the calendar year, a university official said in an e-mail.

Brian Gutierrez, vice chancellor for finance and administration, wrote in an e-mail that the university views the plan as a positive agreement between campus, Chesapeake and the community.

“Such a plan can serve as an archetype solution for similar situations where urban gas drilling is undertaken,” Gutierrez wrote.

Jerri Robbins, public relations manager for Chesapeake, said the City Council approved most of Chesapeake Energy Corporation’s master development plan for natural gas drilling April 7, which will allow the minerals under campus to be extracted without having a well on school grounds.

Gutierrez wrote that once all the wells in the pooled units begin producing, all land owners in the pooled units will begin receiving revenues. The royalty revenue received by the university will be put in the endowment, he wrote.

While the plan resolved the conflict of the well near campus, some Fort Worth residents feel it puts wells in locations that will be cumbersome for residents in other areas.

Gary Hogan, a candidate for City Council, said Chesapeake used misleading tactics to dupe the residents into signing waivers allowing wells to be drilled near their homes.

“Most of the people were not told that, in signing that waiver, they were agreeing to a well site right across the street from them,” Hogan said.

In order to get the approval of City Council, Chesapeake needed all of the residents within 600 feet of the well sites to sign waivers consenting to the site locations, Hogan said.

However, Joel Burns, councilman for District 9, said the majority of the district’s constituents find the plan to be agreeable.

“The goal for this was to not shift the burden from any one neighborhood to another neighborhood but to lessen the burden and impact of gas drilling on the district as a whole, and I think we accomplished that,” Burns said.

Chesapeake sought the approval of the City Council because the plan includes “high impact wells” which are within 600 feet of houses, Burns said.

Although Chesapeake arrived at the council meeting with the necessary signatures, many of the residents were told either that they were the only ones who had not signed the waivers, or that they were required to sign the waivers after having previously signed the mineral production lease agreements, Hogan said.

Many of the residents in the affected area only spoke Spanish, and once he explained to some of the residents what was happening, they expressed surprise, he said.

“I put out a flier that was written in English and Spanish and tried to explain to those people what was about to come down,” Hogan said, “And the people I actually got to talk to said that was the first thing they had ever gotten in Spanish.”

The wells, set to be located near homes, churches and parks, will bring drastic increases in truck traffic and cause the property value in the area to decrease, Hogan said.

“I’m sorry, but I cannot understand how you can say taking one well away from a highly influential area like TCU and then dumping up to thirty wells in a low-income neighborhood and then say, ‘That’s alright,'” he said. “That’s just wrong.”

Robbins said Hogan’s accusations were inaccurate.

“We had almost a dozen people working in the neighborhoods, and made more than 2,000 points of contact in both English and Spanish,” Robbins said.

Chesapeake made many efforts to inform the community, including by bringing in interpreters and conducting neighborhood meetings, she said.

“We were completely open and honest,” she said.

The approval of the master development plan, also known as the Meerkat Mounds to Seminary Plan, provided permits for the final four of seven wells that were necessary for the plan to go under way, she said.

City Council approved the Merrimac, Santa Fe, Seminary and Structural Steel sites, Robbins said.

Now that Chesapeake has the permits, it can begin preparing pad sites for drilling, but Chesapeake does not yet know when the drilling will begin, she said.