About Air and Water

Wednesday, July 2, 2008

Chesapeake may walk away from Fort Worth site

By JIM FUQUAY - Fort Worth Star Telegram - July 2, 2008
Chesapeake Energy on Tuesday asked the city of Fort Worth to postpone a hearing set for next week on its request for a high-impact drilling permit off Eighth Avenue, near the Berkeley Place and Ryan Place neighborhoods, and indicated that it could back away from the site.

The delay means Chesapeake could lose its lease on the site, which expires Aug. 10, unless it can obtain an extension from the landowner, Fort Worth & Western Railroad. It had intended to use the location, at 2520 Eighth Ave., to drill at least two wells under the railroad’s right-of-way, a nearby church and an apartment complex, according to filings with the Texas Railroad Commission.

The move follows a meeting Monday of Chesapeake officials, neighborhood leaders and railroad representatives. It was the latest in a series of meetings to discuss neighborhood concerns about safety and environmental issues.

Julie Wilson, Chesapeake’s top executive in the Barnett Shale, said Tuesday that the company is prepared to walk away from the lease if it cannot reach a consensus with neighborhood leaders on an acceptable drilling and development plan.

"That doesn’t mean we ever expect to get 100 percent support," Wilson said. "But we did say that, yes, we want the leadership of the neighborhoods to support this."

At the same time, she said, "we don’t want battles in city hall" over the granting of a high-impact drilling permit, which Chesapeake is required to obtain because homes are within the 600-foot buffer required by the city’s drilling ordinance. Chesapeake has been unable to obtain waivers from all property owners within that buffer, making a waiver from the City Council its only option.

The company has not withdrawn its application for a drilling permit at the site.

Council member Joel Burns, who represents the neighborhoods, said that although the issue is not yet resolved, he’s pleased with Chesapeake’s action to postpone what promised to be a contentious hearing.

"They have reached out aggressively in the last month. Unfortunately, a month was not nearly enough time to resolve all these issues," he said.

Neighborhood leaders said they were encouraged by Chesapeake’s approach to the controversy.

"They have a totally new attitude in terms of working with the neighborhoods," said Bill Hall, who attended the meetings as an organizer of the Joint Neighborhood Committee, formed last year to deal with mineral-rights leasing concerns.

Dan Roberts, who attended the meeting as a representative of Ryan Place Improvement Association, said that although he’s not convinced that the company fully appreciates the depth of opposition to drilling at the site, "they’re miles from where they were."

Complicating the issue are comments by railroad representatives who said they will explore other, possibly more intensive, uses at the drill site if it is not used for a gas well. An attorney for the railroad declined to comment on possible plans. But people at the meetings said they include freight storage or rail-car loading.
Read more in the Fort Worth Star Telegram

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