Gas drilling operators are no strangers to the dozens of small communities and towns of southern Denton County. However, we are now beginning to pay attention to the risks and dangers these operations pose to the community in the way of harmful toxic emissions, toxic waste discharge, and potential for pipeline explosions. The gas companies and even our own state and federal governments have lulled us into believing that gas drilling in your back yard is good for the country and is as patriotic as the Double Oak Fourth of July parade.
I have lived in Double Oak for fifteen years. Recently our neighbors in Flower Mound have begun to take the dangers of gas drilling operations seriously by putting controls in place to protect its citizens. Double Oak only has a few old laws on the books, which are lax by today’s standards.
With only a five hundred foot setback protecting its citizens as compared to FM’s one thousand foot setback, I dare say it’s time for Double Oak to get a little tougher and demand higher standards.
While it’s true that the Double Oak town council may have not scrutinized the oil and gas producers in the same manner our neighbors in FM have, I would say that Double Oak is in immediate danger if we do not act now.
The concern is the lack of regulation and oversight, the use of toxic chemicals in the fracturing process, the compression stations and tank emissions on a scale so large that we risk turning our town into another DISH.
Recently, Williams Production informed Double Oak of its plan to drill up to 22 additional wells at its Simmons/FM 407 site. And to be of great concern, the Williamsinthebarnett.com website mentions in a casual manner that “Support facilities such as water tanks and natural gas compression would be contained on this site, as well.”
With the current laws in place, Williams will be free to release as much toxic byproduct into the Double Oak environment as it wants and that’s not much protection for the residents of Double Oak.
It’s time for local communities such as Double Oak to step-up to the plate and scrutinize the gas industry in a meaningful, regulatory kind of way. To be effective there needs to be a three-sided front: Local, State and Federal regulations. And not the kind of Dick Cheney/Halliburton lovin’ kind of regulations either; they need to have substance and severe penalties if violated.
On June 21, HBO aired “Gasland,” a documentary film by Josh Fox about the people and communities affected by Natural Gas drilling in a various parts of the country. Armed with water samples taken from the taps of ordinary homeowners, Fox confronts gas executives and government regulators with the evidence and even goes as far as asking if they would care to drink some of the water they proclaimed was safe. Of course no one obliged.
In a theme all too familiar these days, Fox was quoted in a recent Wall Street Journal article, “We’ve seen natural gas blowouts all over the country, and people are abandoning their homes because the industry won’t take responsibility for their actions.”
On the same day “Gasland” aired, Double Oak Mayor Mike Donnelly received a public relations letter from Williams thanking him for his “pro-active and earnest effort to establish a working relationship.” The letter goes on to remind the mayor that Williams has supported the Double Oak Police and Fire Departments in the form of cash donations as part of its community support efforts. And if I read between the lines, Williams will continue to “support” the community with its generosity as long as we play nice.
I’ve said this before in numerous emails to the Double Oak Gas committee, but it still holds true: At this time we cannot rely on the state or feds to protect us due to eroded regulations and the lack of enforcement of air and water quality standards – we need to act on our own behalf!
The 2005 Energy Act, for example, exempts gas exploration from federal water safety laws. The EPA does not have the teeth to enforce the Clean Water Act regulations and the TCEQ, like most state run agencies, are afraid of losing their funding. I don’t know about you, but I would not want to risk the future health of my family knowing that we could have asked the right questions and demanded higher standards. Thanks for keeping America safe Dick Cheney!
Right now, I feel fortunate that the 2008/2009 economic crisis derailed our Double Oak lease negotiations. I thought that ship sailed without me, but now I’m glad it did. Maybe that was our best opportunity to preserve our little town’s way of life.
For the time being, avoiding Grandfathered wells and saying “NO” to new gas drilling is the right thing to do – at least until the laws change and the government is able to provide a greater level of environmental protection.
Think about it… If the government ran the EPA like they run Homeland Security, we would have BP CEO Tony Hayward pictured as the Ace of Spades on a deck of cards.
Double Oak, TX