Tuesday, March 13, 2007

Gas Well Madness

I live in Joshua, Texas. That's right smack in the middle of what's called the Barnett-Shale. What that indicates is that I live atop a 5,000 square mile area of shale that's packed with natural gas. I only live on 1.39 acres of it, but still, I'm there. When natural gas was going for $2.50 a whatever, nobody wanted to drill here. Now it's near $7.00 and the landsmen came around and signed us all to leases of our gas rights. Everybody in the region--from Hood County to Parker, Denton to Tarrant to Wise to Johnson--got about $500 an acre in a signing bonus and a piece of the action. Politically correct, you could turn that down but they could still collect the gas from under your land--having to pay you a small piece of it--but you'd simply miss the bonus.
Everybody signed.
Now here's the crazy part. The Railroad Commission in Texas controls gas and oil drilling. They set the standards of how the drilling, collecting and transmission is done.
But the RR Commission is a state wide thing and the Barnett Shale is only a half dozen or so out of more than 100 counties in Texas (though I think we're bigger than Vermont), so the RR Commission doesn't pay much attention.
So here's the deal: Statewide, there are no regulations as to how far a well has to be from an inhabited building. There are no regulations in place that force a pipeline company to produce a record of where its pipes are except to the Railroad Commission and to the property owner. The first responders, the firemen and HASMAT, the people who will come to your aid during a gas fire/explosion, have no idea where the pipelines are. I'm not just talking about the pipelines from the well to the well head. I'm not just talking about the lines from the well head to the collection lines. I'm not even just talking about the transmission lines that are interstate that carry the gas. I'm talking about all of them. There are no regulations in place.
So when you ask HASMAT what they would do as first responders in the event that a well placed two hundred feet from a housing development explodes they say "Put your finger in the air, figure out where the wind is blowing, and go the other way. And don't start your car if you think the leak is near you because the spark will set the gas off."
That's the official word.
And when asked if lines can run under an apartment complex, they say, "Yes, but we wouldn't know that because there is no need to register those lines."
Sound's incredible for something that can blow a football-field- sized hole 20 feet deep in the ground when the wrong spark hits the gas, eh? And sounds incredible that someone digging a new well doesn't necessarily know where someone else's pipelines are.
Just yesterday, a fellow digging a ditch for a new natural gas line hit and ruptured an existing propane gas pipeline, which sparked, exploded and set off explosions in two other lines that no one knew were underground in the area--an area not far from Fort Worth proper. Fortunately, it was farmland and no one was hurt. But if the same thing happened under a condo with 300 families living in it? Baked beans, baby, and lots of human sausage.
And no one is working on the possiblity of it happening. Yet there are more than 600 gas wells within the city of Fort Worth and maybe 1,400 more will be drilled in the next few years. We are the hot bed area of natural gas, after all. And if someone in the Railroad Commission, or if a mayor or governor hasn't got the guts to demand that pipelines be laid deeper than two feet underground and that they not be near habited buildings and that the local fire department and HASMAT have a computerized picture of where these lines and wells are, well then we are just waiting for a human fish fry.
Sounds like it would take about 10 minutes to fix, eh? Just pass out blueprint gps's of where these things are and make the people laying them go around buildings.
But nobody is willing to say the Chief is running around town naked because they're all so in awe of the monies these wells are bringing in.
So when you read about 50 families being blown to kingdom come, and I hope you don't, but I think it's inevitable, well, remember that they could have avoided it at a very very little cost: The cost of a couple of copies of their information and the occasional cost of going around a building instead of under it.
Aaaarrrrrgggggghhhhh. All for money, right honey?


Morgan said...

that is just horrific!

I read this after commenting on the dicey edge

but this post relates to my comment there.

It seems to me that where there is oil and gas there is insanity. Perhaps this is obvious, but I get the impression that it really tightens the blinders, everyone just huffin' away.

The chief is hardley naked, hes completely insane! As are his minions.

So much that is wrong with the world can so easily be fixed.

Sounds like it would take about 10 minutes to fix, eh?

Again, its that old wrinkly grip, finger on the trigger.

dodahdan said...

Yep, horrific, and insane.

But if the gas companies actually informed anybody about the location of their lines, the trouble makers would pour out of the wood work! Objections would surely be raised about every line run under every orphanage, old folks home, hospital, residential area, playground, and on and on. Just imagine the grief that would ensue. With every new line that is run, health, safety and reason would have to be employed, and what would suffer? Why, the bottom line of course!

After all, weighing the balance of a few, or few hundred innocent deaths against the happiness and greed of stock holders and you can see there really is no contest......


Peter Gorman said...

Dodahdan: Well fucking put.
Peter G