FORT WORTH — The debate over natural gas drilling in the Barnett Shale isn’t on Jerry Horton’s doorstep, but it’s in the front yard of her century-old house on Carter Avenue in the East Meadowbrook neighborhood.
Horton and some of her neighbors are unhappy with a natural gas company that wants to build a pipeline beneath their front yards. They say the company, Chesapeake Energy’s Texas Midstream Gas Services, is bullying them. The company says it can’t transport gas without adequate pipelines.
It’s just one case going on across the city as natural gas drilling pushes farther into Fort Worth.
Neighborhood activists say the case illustrates the need for residents to pay attention to the city’s regulation of pipelines, along with other aspects of gas drilling. A city committee is scheduled to discuss pipeline rules this summer.
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“I was taken aback by this one, and I watch pretty closely,” said Don Young, who runs the Web site fwcando.org. “I never thought they’d put a pipeline in this location.”
The public will get only a few chances to comment on the rules before they go to the City Council. The first is Monday.
A few lawsuits
There are no statistics that track the number of homeowners affected by gas-gathering pipelines. But there are numerous lines being built around town, and the building efforts have occasionally landed in court.
Late last year, Texas Midstream sued Country Day School, trying to get access for a pipeline survey. The suit was quickly withdrawn and the matter was settled amicably, said Julie Wilson, Chesapeake’s vice president for Barnett Shale operations.
In January, another gas company condemned an easement across a cemetery in south Fort Worth, according to court documents.
On Carter Avenue, Texas Midstream has been trying since midspring to get an easement for a 16-inch gas line. It will require easements from 44 homes and vacant lots. The line will be bored 15 to 30 feet below the surface, but some residents are still concerned about safety and the effect of the pipeline on trees. In most cases, residents can’t plant new trees on a pipeline easement, and it’s not clear whether people on Carter Avenue would be able to replace existing trees if those were to die after the pipeline was installed.
‘Sitting in the dark’
Horton and other residents on Carter Avenue said they believe that Chesapeake and Texas Midstream did not try hard enough to find alternate routes and moved too quickly to threaten condemnation. The Texas Railroad Commission granted Texas Midstream the same right to condemn property as other utility companies.
“If it were Texas Electric or Atmos, it would be different,” said Horton, a retiree whose house has mature oak trees in the front yard. Those companies provide service to everyone, Horton said, but the Chesapeake pipeline would benefit one company.
Wilson said Chesapeake should have the same rights to condemn land as other utilities because it sells gas to public utilities. “How does she think Atmos gets their gas?
“If you’ve got electricity in your house or if you’ve got water in your house or if you’ve got natural gas in your house, chances are it wouldn’t be there without rights of condemnation,” Wilson said. “If your neighbor didn’t allow those rights of way across his yard, you’d be sitting there in the dark.”
3 homeowners sued
Wilson said lawsuits and condemnation proceedings are rare. She said the company has sued three homeowners on Carter Avenue, asking for injunctions that allow the company to survey the pipeline route.
Horton hasn’t been sued, but Clayton and Becky Brooks have. They live a few doors down from Horton.
“They said eminent domain would be the last resort,” Clayton Brooks said. “That was the last we heard until the constable served the paper.”
Chesapeake filed May 20 for an injunction against the couple, and a county court-at-law judge issued an order against them the next day.
“The inability of plaintiff to properly survey defendants property prior to proposed constructions ... will result in plaintiff’s inability to meet its duty to provide safe, reliable gas service to the public,” a judge ruled.
After the lawsuit was filed, the Brookses agreed to allow access for the survey crew, because they couldn’t afford a lawyer. But they’ve refused to agree to the easement, along with Horton and a few other neighbors.
Horton said the neighbors are trying to negotiate a better deal. They’re also planning to attend the gas committee hearing Monday.