Oil and Gas Drilling Nears Homes

For the last decade, there's been a gas drilling boom in north Texas. While the Houston region hasn't seen nearly as much activity, some residents here are fighting new drilling efforts in their neighborhoods. Like their counterparts up north, they're alarmed by how close the wells are to their homes. KUHF health science and technology reporter Carrie Feibel explains why.
Summerwood is a master-planned community just west of Lake Houston. Suzanne Deason bought a house here last year. She was attracted by the strict rules, the recreational trails, and the quiet. So she was surprised last May to see strange equipment being erected at the end of her cul-de-sac.

“I looked at the end of the street and I thought, ‘That must be the shopping center going in there, surely that’s not an oil rig!’ You know, I was completely in denial I would say for a couple weeks. And then Linda happened to mention, my sister-in-law happened to mention ‘I think that’s an oil rig.’”

It was a drilling rig, but it was going after natural gas, not oil. Still, Deason had a hard time believing this was going on right down the street.

“After that we started noticing very strong smells early in the morning. Diesel fumes for sure and we don’t know what else. And there was noise and there were 18-wheelers.”

Suzanne’s sister-in-law Linda Deason started investigating. She found that the drilling was completely legal. The little patch of woods that they thought was a nature preserve was actually an access point for mineral rights.

“And I will be the first to say I was shocked. But it is in — if you find the drawings from when I first bought here, sure enough it says ‘drill site.’ Ok, I never really knew what drill site meant, now I do know what drill site means.”

Linda says there’s a big lesson to be learned here: buyer beware. She says go to the courthouse if you have to, pull the plat before you buy.

If you don’t know who has the mineral rights, who has the surface rights, of everything around you, not just your property, but around you, this can happen anywhere, absolutely anywhere.

One place it could happen is League City. A company has asked for a zoning variance so it can drill for oil in a residential neighborhood. Vaness Hamilton is leading the opposition.

“They’re coming here again because now the technology with oil drilling has improved, and they want to go deeper.”

Vaness Hamilton
League City resident Vaness Hamilton shows a piece of land in her neighborhood that would have to be rezoned to allow oil drilling. Hamilton opposes the plan.

Hamilton takes frequent nature walks near the proposed drill site. It’s a woody patch of land, bordered by a creek on two sides and a mobile home park on a third.

(sounds of walking)

“This is a drainage easement — there’s another egret — it’s not meant for a roadway.”

The League City planning board has already voted to allow the drilling, but City Council has the final say on Dec. 14.

“Definitely it’s going to make noise and pollution. And then there’s the opportunity that once this rig goes in, others are gonna in as well."
 
Back up north, in Summerwood, the drilling has ended and gas production has begun. Ben Yoesel is an engineer with Ballard Exploration.

“I think we have sympathy for ‘em and I think we try to be a good neighbor, you know, by putting up a sound wall. We did what we could to minimize our disturbance to ‘em.”

Summerwood is just outside Houston, in unincorporated Harris County. There are no zoning protections or city laws that require setbacks. Only the state rules apply here. Rock Owens is chief environmental attorney for Harris County.

“The standards for where a well can be drilled within the distance of somebody’s home are pretty loose. They can be drilled pretty close to someone’s home. But even though they can do that, a drilling company cannot pollute the air while they’re doing that.”

Tomorrow at this time we’ll take a closer look at the air pollution coming from gas wells, and discuss whether the state is doing enough to protect people who live nearby. From the KUHF Health Science and Technology Desk, I’m Carrie Feibel.
Bio photo of Carrie Feibel

Carrie Feibel

Health & Science Reporter

Carrie Feibel is KUHF's health and science reporter. She comes to Houston Public Radio after ten years as a print reporter...