Day 1 – Dish (near Fort Worth, Texas) – Barnett Shale
If you want to know just how imposing a gas field can be on a community – visit Dish, Texas.
At Dish and all around Fort Worth Texas the target is Shale Gas from the Barnett Shale. It was one of the first areas where fracking technology and horizontal drilling was developed for unconventional gas.
A Google Earth image of the Dish, Texas area:
View Larger Map
Dozens of companies now operate gas fields across the region with wells, pipelines and compressor stations dotting and crisscrossing the landscape.
We knew about Dish from Gasland and were there to meet the former Mayor Calvin Tilman who featured in the film.
It doesn’t take long to work out that things have gone a little astray in Dish. We pulled up to the Dish Town Hall to meet Calvin and right next to the hall and the local playground – and I mean within 50 metres – are a couple of gas wells and condensate tanks.
Dish is what you would describe as a rural residential area with small acre lots. Historically small horse and cattle ranches operated around dish but as Dallas and Fort Worth has expanded, new housing developments have started to push further out towards this district.
Within minutes we have driven past a dozen wells, two compressor stations and can see dozens more wells in the distance. In fact the whole time we were driving around the town we could see at least five if not eight or ten well sites. Most are located just behind houses or in paddocks.
The drone of the compressor stations is a constant but for those people within 200 or 300 metres of one it must be unbearable. Apart from the noise there is a gassy stench in the air and I already have a headache within 30 minutes of arriving. I asked Calvin about health issues in the community and he told me that he had moved because his kids were suffering nosebleeds and that this was common in the community.
The most surreal vision is of the relatively new ‘Shale Creek’ Community. A residential development that started about ten years ago now looks to have a few hundred homes. There is still a big balloon flying over the development signaling that great house and land opportunities remain. To get into the community you drive through a stone entrance proudly displaying the name, past a compressor station on the left with a 10 metre shroud standing around it blocking out the view and a gas well on the right. The homes start just next to the compressor that roars 24/7. It is planning gone mad.
Watch this video (sorry about the wind noise)
It is hard to not think that the ideal of the land of the free has been well and truly coopted by those that think it means they should be free to do whatever they want at the expense of people, community and environment.
Produced water doesn’t seem to be a big deal here because most of it is re-injected into very deep aquifers below the shale. I guess any impacts won’t be known until well after the gas companies have left town. But the unlined frack ponds are a worry and you can drive right up to them with no warning of what may be in the water.
I asked Calvin about the longevity of the wells. He replied that the gas companies extract more gas from each well in the first year of production than all of the rest of the years of production combined. The gas companies re-frack and keep the wells functioning but the amount of gas extracted reduces substantially as soon as production starts. I recal a visit to the AGL gas field near Camden where many wells were hitting end of life by year three or four. The reality of this industry is a constant expansion of wells to keep up production. It is never just one well or one field of wells, it is the constant expansion required to continue to keep up supply. Calvin told us that there were 60,000 abandoned wells across Texas already.
Of particular concern was the foul chemical odour being emitted that we experienced at one of the compressor stations. The nose can is a sensitive organ, and everyone in our party knew that this was not healthy smell. A land owner who had built a beautiful new house on the hill prior to the compressor station being built became ill and eventually decided to leave rather than stay living in the vicinity of the compressor station.
Later we came across a drill rig operating only 100 metres from people’s homes. Again the noise was constant and deafening. It is surprising how closely they drill or frack to houses. No other heavy industry would be allowed to operate like this, but Texas, being an oil and gas state, has little regulation.
It would have been great to get to talk to someone working in the gas fields around Dish, but despite driving around for 3 hours, including right up to numerous wells and up to the gates of compressor stations, we did not see a single person from a gas company. The reality is that there are very few local jobs in this industry. Most of the drillers come in from outside to do the initial drilling and fracking and then they are off to the next site or gas field. The ongoing maintenance clearly requires a very small workforce. Almost no one from the Dish community is employed in the local gas industry.
It is strange to drive around in a community so clearly being taken advantage of with the imposition of this industry, the noise, the smell and the sickness and to not see a single sign in opposition – no message against gas, no ‘protect our community’ slogans.
I guess I had taken for granted the public campaign in Australia, the Lock the Gate movement, and assumed that opposition was a natural response to this industry. Now I realise that it only came about and continues to grow because of the tireless work of many individuals in educating, training and working with communities across Queensland and New South Wales. We talked a little with Calvin about the campaign in Australia and he seemed surprised at the level of open public opposition to the industry. The reality it seems is that Texas is an oil and gas state and that notion is so ingrained in the psyche of Texans that questioning the shale gas industry is just not done by the average person. It seems many has resigned themselves to this fate that will seem over a million gas wells drilled in Texas alone.
You can have a look at this slideshow of photos of our first day in Dallas and Dish.