About Air and Water

Monday, July 30, 2007

Gas driller pressured to preserve green areas by Ft. Worth Park

By MIKE LEE- Star-Telegram staff writer - Mon, Jul. 30, 2007
FORT WORTH -- Hundreds of people have written letters and signed petitions, asking a natural gas company not to drill next to two popular parks.

Chesapeake Energy is working with local officials to minimize the effects of drilling at one site and has not decided whether to drill at the other, a spokeswoman said.

Chesapeake acquired both sites last year -- 8 acres along the Trinity River trail west of University Drive and 50 acres just east of Tandy Hills Nature Center, between Beach Street and Oakland Boulevard near Interstate 30.

The Trinity River site includes a grove of shade trees next to a parking lot that joggers, hikers and bicyclists use to explore the river trails. Jim Marshall, a bicyclist and bird enthusiast, said he has seen wild turkeys and eastern bluebirds there; both are rare in urban areas.

Marshall has collected letters and signatures from 442 people opposed to drilling at the site.

"Most of us thought that was a park," Marshall said. "In my mind and in the mind of a lot of people, that's a horrible thing to have happen to what I think is one of the most beautiful groves of trees along the Trinity trails."

Chesapeake would have to clear-cut more than 2 acres of trees at the site and erect a chain-link fence to drill in the area, Chesapeake Vice President Julie Wilson said. The company plans to drill six to eight wells in two phases, each of which would take 60 to 80 days. Production would continue for 20 to 30 years, and crews would need to rework the well periodically throughout that time.

Wilson said the pad site will be at the back of the tract.

"It's not the trees that are out alongside by the trails," she said. "We're going to make every effort to make sure that that view where the joggers and bikers go by is affected as little as possible."

The site was already privately owned, and the previous owner could have cut the trees to build on it, Wilson said.

"This, frankly, was a great way to preserve a lot of that area that would not have been preserved if an apartment complex or an office building had gone in," she said.

The site would be used to drill for gas beneath the Colonial Country Club, which is just south of the river, and the Union Pacific rail yard, which runs next to the trail.

Marshall has suggested that Chesapeake drill on Union Pacific's land, but Wilson said the company doesn't own a drill site there.

At Tandy Hill Park, residents are working with Chesapeake to move any potential drill sites away from the neighborhood and are trying to encourage the company to donate any unused land to the park. Tandy Hills includes about 180 acres of tallgrass prairie that is nearly pristine, even though it borders Interstate 30 a couple of miles from downtown.

It's also near Gateway Park, which is reportedly the site of some of the most productive gas wells in the region.

The land Chesapeake bought has gone undeveloped because it is in the shadow of the broadcast towers near the KXAS/Channel 5 studios. Chesapeake acquired its tract from Sagamore Hill Baptist Church, which acquired it from the Carter family, the previous owner of the Star-Telegram and Channel 5.

"It's a piece of ground I've been trying to protect for 15 years," said Wanda Conlin, who lives in the West Meadowbrook neighborhood. "Almost all of us bought our houses because it was there. We love the land."

Don Young, an environmentalist who has organized a festival to help protect Tandy Hills Park, has gotten letters and signatures from 70 people in support of preserving the land.

Wilson said the company has not done geological testing to determine where -- or even whether -- the company will drill a well at the site. Chesapeake has given hundreds of thousands of dollars to develop local parks and will try to show the same commitment on the Tandy Hills site, she said.

"We'll be very sensitive to the environment and the needs of the neighborhood," she said.

Fort Worth Councilwoman Kathleen Hicks, who met with Chesapeake officials and neighborhood residents last week, said she was encouraged by the talks.

"Obviously, our goal is to minimize the impact on the park," she said.
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