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Your 2 Cents: Drill Hilliard, Drill!

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You get what’s yours; forget about everybody else

In the July 10 issue of the Dallas Morning News, long-time Flower Mound resident Ron Hilliard succinctly summed up his determination to drill for natural gas on his 90-acre pasture thusly: “People come to town and try to tell me what I can do with my property.  They can come and kiss my donkey.”

You tell ‘em, Ronnie! 

To hell with the thousands of families who have steadily encroached upon the perimeters of the land your grandfather bought in 1929 for $35 an acre. Their arrival has driven up the value of your property exponentially in recent years, but you want more. Too bad if the vast majority of your fellow citizens wish you wouldn’t drill in such a densely populated area. They should have seen this coming when they built their homes above the Barnett Shale!  (I realize your ancestors had no idea they were sitting on a mother lode of minerals either; but that’s beside the point.  As your sister said in the same article, it’s your “birthright” and “inheritance.”)  Dad gum right, it is!

It’s not your problem that LISD planted an elementary and middle school less than 1,500 feet from where you want to drill. Or that they likely won’t be able to build the planned ninth grade campus on their land due south of you, since it will fall within the 1,000-foot setback required by the town’s ordinances.  

All those angry and worried parents should just quit their yappin’, right Ronnie?  The chances that one of the 20 or so wells you’re planning to drill on your land will explode in a massive fireball like what happened in Caddo Parish, LAin April, are pretty darn low.  Sure, 135 homes up to a mile away were evacuated for weeks, and 50 families within half a mile (roughly 2,600 feet) had to stay away for more than a month.   

Fortunately for you, one of the flaws in our town’s drilling ordinances is the absence of setbacks that account for well-blast radius.  Several hundred school kids would be well within reach of any explosion at your pad site.  

But that can’t happen in Flower Mound because, well…  You’ve got rights, dadgummit! 

We all know accidents happen, but that’s a risk you’re willing to accept in return for a seven-digit windfall.  Besides, you don’t have any children at Shadow Ridge or Bluebonnet anyway.

I also commend you for giving the whippersnappers at Titan Operating a chance to refine their techniques on your property.  Who better to drill two dozen wells in the middle of our town than a company that will soon celebrate its second birthday, has drilled fewer than ten wells since its inception, and is funded by a private equity firm out of New York City.  (Come on, picante fans, say it with me: New York City?!!!)  Ha ha!  Ain’t it a hoot?

Those boys from Titan have promised you the jackpot of a lifetime, Ronnie, and you sure as shootin’ better take it while you’ve got the chance.  The leases your neighbors signed a couple years ago will be expiring soon, and a bunch of those families are already regretting their decision.  Seems they’ve heard about all the dangers associated with hydraulic fracturing.   And they’ve figured out they’ll be lucky to get $1,000 a year per acre in royalties, which pales in comparison to the loss in property value they’ll experience by living so close to active wells for the next two or three decades (if they can sell their homes at all). 

But they aren’t your problem.  Just your neighbors.  You can cry all the way to the bank!

It’s too bad natural gas prices are near historic lows right now.  That’s because gas companies have been drilling like mad all across the country since Congress passed the 2005 energy bill, which included the “Halliburton loophole,” a provision pushed through by Vice President Dick Cheney t
hat exempted the industry from compliance with the Clean Air Act, Clean Water Act and host of other environmental regulations.

Ain’t it great how that ole sumbitch Cheney fixed it so the drillers can pretend fracking fluid isn’t toxic?  Their devil’s brew contains hundreds of known human carcinogens, neurotoxins and other deadly compounds like benzene, toluene, ethylbenzene, ethyl-methylethyl disulfide, xylene, naphthalene, carbon disulfide, methyl pyridine, ethylene glycol, ammonium chloride, polyglycol ether, boric acid, hydrochloric acid, and other unpronounceable toxins.  But the industry can claim it’s non-hazardous.  Brilliant!

The FRAC Act moving through Congress would close that loophole, but our friends in the oil and gas industry are spending millions to kill it.  I always chuckle when companies like Williams, Chesapeake and XTO claim the composition of their fracking fluids is proprietary – like the recipe for Coca-Cola or the Colonel’s chicken.  They make the tobacco industry look like rank amateurs.

But you and I know that when the gas companies are inevitably required to reveal what’s in those deadly concoctions, the public will go berserk.  The class action suits will fly, and new restrictions could make it too costly to drill so many wells.  That will cut into the heavily subsidized industry’s profits, and pinch your royalty checks!  

Predictably, the environmental wackos at Obama’s EPA have started sticking their pesky noses where they don’t belong.  They just launched a $1.9 million study on the health and safety threats posed by fracking, and you just know they’ll try to impose a slew of federal regulations once they’re done (if not sooner). 

I went to the EPA’s first public hearing last week, in Fort Worth.  Man, did they get an earful from people complaining about water contamination, flammable tap water, fugitive air emissions, toxic landfarms, unexplained illnesses affecting adults, kids and livestock, plummeting property values and other horror stories linked to the proliferation of gas wells in the region.  

Fortunately, the suits from the industry were there to remind everybody that things were just fine as they are, and the problems people were reporting were either imagined or not the result of drilling.  They claimed that hydraulic fracturing has been around for 60 years (conveniently ignoring that the unconventional, horizontal drilling process they’re using now was first introduced in the late 1990s, and the vast majority of shale wells have been drilled since Cheney forced the EPA to stop watching five years ago).  

Even Texas Railroad Commission Chairman Victor Carrillo was there, shamelessly parroting the industry line that there’s “never been a documented case of groundwater contamination due to hydraulic fracturing.”  It’s a ridiculous claim, but he managed to deliver it with a straight face.  You’ve gotta admire the man’s audacity, standing in front of nearly 600 booing constituents, many of whom have repeatedly pleaded with his office for help, only to be ignored, or told that nothing could be done.

Many of the attendees called Carrillo and the TRRC corrupt, and accused them of being in the pockets of the oil and gas industry.  They kept talking about how the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality was equally crooked, especially after revelations that a senior TCEQ official covered up evidence of elevated benzene levels in air tests recently conducted in Fort Worth.  

The activists kept saying “you can’t find what you don’t look for,” and “if the TRRC and TCEQ were doing their jobs, we wouldn’t need the EPA to step in.”  But they’re no different than the fear mongers in Flower Mound who just love to stir up trouble, you know?   I’ll bet those 600 or so people didn’t have anything better to do on a Thursday night than spend four hours in a warm Fort Worth ballroom.  Especially the ones who drove in from Arkansas a
nd Louisiana for the privilege of speaking to EPA officials for a whopping two minutes.

The feds will probably have no choice but to do something, because there’s a bunch of crazy people in Colorado, New Mexico, Wyoming, Louisiana, Arkansas, Pennsylvania, New York and other states that have the same complaints.  Then there’s that Gasland documentary running on HBO that’s getting the yanks all riled up 

Did you realize that the Marcellus Shale, which runs from New York all the way down to Virginia and over to Ohio, holds more natural gas than the Barnett?  I’m not talking twice as much.  Or even ten times as much.  It’s estimated to hold more than 100 times as much!  

It makes you wonder why they have to drill in the middle of densely populated Flower Mound neighborhoods, when gas is in such plentiful supply, our reserves are seemingly limitless, and they haven’t even scratched the surface of the Marcellus, the richest play of them all.

You’d better get those drilling rigs in place quick, Ron.  

Forget the moratorium passed by the new Town Council.  You got your permit in before they had a chance to act, so you’re grandfathered in with the old ordinances anyway.  

The bigger threat might be the feds.  EPA has already stripped the TCEQ of some of its authority, so the industry’s freewheeling days in Texas may be coming to an end.

Heck, Obama’s even gone so far as to impose a nationwide moratorium on new deepwater drilling permits just because BP lost control of one lousy well in the gulf.  Talk about an over-reaction!  Thank goodness industry is fighting him in the courts.  And we still have good ole boys like Joe Barton and Michael Burgess in Congress to protect us – I mean Big Oil and Gas – from the tree-hugging liberals.

But what if there’s another catastrophic accident, like the ones in Caddo Parish, Appomattox, VA, Dimock, PA, and even Decatur, TX?  People would be screaming for Obama to enact a national moratorium on shale drilling.  What would we do then? 

Hopefully the catastrophe won’t occur on your property when Titan hot taps into Atmos’ gas line.  That’s a very delicate and dangerous operation.  Do you know if they’ve ever done that before?

By the way, I love the way you thumbed your nose at the Oil & Gas Board of Appeals after they denied the variances Titan needed to drill on your property.  They say you can’t drill so close to your treasured storage shed?  You tore it down.  Too close to the artesian well your family has drunk from for generations?  You’re capping it.  (Who cares about the aquifers Titan has to drill through?  The town can deal with those if they get contaminated.)  Too close to upland habitat?  You knocked down 18 trees!

Take that, Flower Mound!  Tell Ron Hilliard he can’t drill near his trees, and he’ll just cut ‘em down!  Now that’s what I call a true Texan.  Making a mockery of the town’s ordinances!  (Seems illegal to me, but the town staff and council seem to believe they’re powerless to stop you now.)  

Now I understand why you’ve lined your fence with all those flags.  You’re a true patriot.   

I can’t wait until Titan sets up their towering rig – just like the beauty at Grapevine Mills – right there for everyone to see as they drive up and down FM
2499.  I’ll think of it as your middle finger extended to the 60,000 or so people who, like my family, moved to Flower Mound over the past decade or two.  

And I’ll remember the words of your sister, who proudly proclaimed “We don’t want anything that’s not ours, but we want everything that is.”

And they say greed is not a family virtue.

Better tell your donkey to pucker up, Ron.  Your good family name may soon be mud round these parts, but you’ll sure get everything you deserve. 

Ladd Biro is a small business owner and syndicated sports columnist who has lived in Flower Mound since 2002.

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