Most residential property owners do not worry about owning mineral rights until a company comes in to mine what lies beneath their property. This is happening throughout the state of Texas, the birthplace of fracking.
According to a Dec.31 article in the UK Guardian, Gardendale, Texas is a suburb of about 1,500 people who purchased surface rights to their properties. The local government did little to establish restrictions on fracking, so the oil companies went into maximum overdrive to set up drilling sites. Gardendale now has 51 drilling sites in an 11 square mile section of land and even more wells are on the way.
The main oil developer, Berry Oil, plans to develop a "20 acre spacing" plan, which would allow up to 160 additional wells within the Gardendale city limits. Even worse, the wells are allowed to be as close as 150 feet from residences and businesses, a distance that is rarely, if ever, allowed in any other place.
As an example, officials in nearby Midland required a 500 foot distance from residences, a limit of 30 wells inside the city limits and landscaping around some wells.
But in Gardendale, not only do oil companies have unlimited rights, they can stop property owners from exercising their surface rights. Hector Rodriguez was prohibited from expanding his trailer home or building a larger dog house on his six acres. The oil company has no plans to drill there yet, but insisted on limiting the surface owner's rights to "protect access".
Debbie Leverett is one resident who described Gardendale's living conditions to a group of journalists from the Society of Environmental Journalists,
"You can hear it, you can smell it, and you are always breathing it. It's just like being behind a car exhaust. All of your senses change."
Fracking is a hydraulic fracturing method where millions of gallons of local groundwater are mixed with sand and chemicals, then injected into the ground. The pressure forces out oil and gas from shale that can lie up to thousands of feet below ground. Each well requires a sizable drill and pad and leaves enormous amounts of chemicals underground.
It is difficult to regulate or prohibit fracking because the money appeals to governments and the jobs are helpful. This entices local governments to give oil companies a free hand while the Federal government has virtually no regulation on fracking. According to a Dec. 28, 2012 article, Huffington Post said that any future federal regulation is in the hands of Lisa Jackson's successor. Jackson resigned her position as director of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) on Dec. 26, 2012.
The other problem is that the wells have a relatively short production life. An Aug.15 Daily Kos article exposed Fracking wells as unproductive after the easiest forms of extraction are finished. This leads to drilling more wells in a greater concentration because difficult extraction methods are not as profitable.
The Gardendale crisis serves as a lesson that all communities across the nation should think about fracking now. When they are promised money, cash strapped local and state governments are less likely to set restrictions on drilling in or near cities and residential areas. It is easy for unregulated oil and gas companies to overstep their rights and no town or city should allow the suffering that goes on in Gardendale, Texas.