ARLINGTON -- A handful of people holding signs with messages such as "Be Aware: Your children are at risk" gathered in front of a south Arlington day care center Monday afternoon to protest the first of 11 additional proposed natural gas wells near the Municipal Airport.
The Arlington City Council's agenda tonight includes a public hearing on Chesapeake Energy's request for a second gas well permit at the so-called Rocking Horse drill site at 4945 S. Collins St. near Caplin Drive. The drill site, which was originally approved by the city in October 2009 and has one operating well, was named for the day care center, which is now renamed Childcare Network.
Besides issues such as noise and unexplained vibrations, opponents have cited health concerns about allowing an industrial operation so close to a day care center, businesses and homes.
"I find it unconscionable to put this kind of poison in our back yards and in our children's play areas," said Tammie Carson, one of the residents who spoke last month in opposition to Chesapeake's drilling plans at a City Council meeting.
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The City Council has given preliminary approval to Chesapeake's request to expand the Rocking Horse drill site by about 2.3 acres. Childcare Network is 359 feet from the boundary of the drilling zone, according to a city staff report.
The council narrowly approved the expanded boundaries 5-3, with council members Robert Rivera, Lana Wolff and Kathryn Wilemon voting no. The council is to take its second, final vote Tuesday night on the expansion request. There will not be a public hearing on that request, but a public hearing is scheduled on the drilling permit request for a new well.
The Rocking Horse site's existing well, drilled in 2010, serves 1,400 mineral owners, company representative Lynda Gearheart told council members at the Jan. 22 public hearing for the expansion request. Addressing some of the residents' concerns about emissions, Gearheart said air quality in the Barnett Shale improved during the height of natural gas drilling and that Chesapeake does its best to promote clean air.
"There is a very long history -- over a six-year history -- of drilling responsibly in the Barnett. Chesapeake has been a part of that," Gearheart said. "We recognize that we are a bit of an unusual user of property, but we try very hard to be a good corporate citizen and neighbor."
Gearheart told council members that she has communicated with the day care center's executive director and said that parents have not raised concerns about drilling activity.
"She's only had one question by one parent asking what the drill site was and once she explained it the parent enrolled the child anyway. It was not an issue," Gearheart said. "She has been there through our drilling and we asked her if we ever disturbed her. She said she can't hear anything over the kids inside the day care."
A home and an office building are also within 600 feet of the proposed drilling zone, which is the minimum setback distance required unless the driller can obtain written consent from at least 70 percent of affected property owners. Chesapeake has met that threshold, according to a city staff report.
The City Council is also set to hold public hearings and vote Tuesday on a requested gas well permit for the Lenox drill site at West Poly Webb and West Pleasant Ridge roads and a requested gas well permit for the Steeples drill site at 7102 Bowman Springs Road north of Interstate 20.
Susan Schrock, 817-709-7578