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Fort Worth, Texas, Homeowners Protest Plan to Drill Natural Gas Wells

More than 50 homeowners from a north Tarrant County neighborhood showed up ...

More than 50 homeowners from a north Tarrant County neighborhood showed up Wednesday at City Hall to protest a real estate developer's plans to drill natural gas wells near their homes.

Many wore white T-shirts emblazoned in red with Gas wells and kids don't mix on the front and Dump the Pump on the back.

We are not a group of 'not in my back yard' people, said Jim Munkittrick, a Fossil Creek Estates homeowner and co-chairman of the area's Environmental Protection Committee. We understand the need for this. But we really want it done with an intelligent perspective and we want it done safely.

Homeowners in Fossil Creek Estates, Van Zandt Farms, Savanna Estates and Sun Valley have filed petitions opposing the planned wells. They say they are worried about their safety, health, water supply and property values.

At issue is an application by West Comm Investment asking for a zoning change on 3.3 acres of land so it can drill for natural gas.

After Wednesday's public hearing, the Fort Worth Zoning Commission delayed a decision for three months to give the city staff time to review the case.

One of the issues the staff will review is whether the city should regulate property outside Fort Worth.

These homeowners say they should fall under the city's guidelines because they work in Fort Worth, spend their money in Fort Worth and are likely to be annexed by Fort Worth within a few years.

Dennis Hopkins, a consultant representing West Comm Investment, said the delay is as unnecessary as the homeowners' concerns.

The issue could be studied in a far shorter period than three months, and the delay will postpone some of the company's plans, he said.

Hopkins said the location is geologically ideal for gas wells and the operation would be safe for the community.

I know [area residents] have some concerns and we tried to inform them, Hopkins said. I don't know if they listened well to what we had to say. Their minds were made up before we talked to them.

Drilling on the property would be simple, Hopkins told the nine-member zoning commission.

He said it would take about 21 days to drill the holes for the two proposed natural gas wells. After that, a structure about four feet tall would be installed near each of the holes to regulate the flow of gas.

Hopkins said that the wells wouldn't generate much traffic in the area and that only one operator would travel to and from the area to check on the site each day. The area, he said, would constantly be monitored to ensure safety.

It's a common, safe process ... that's highly regulated in the state of Texas, Hopkins said.

Hopkins told the commission that the Texas Natural Resource Conservation Commission and the Texas Railroad Commission have already approved the drilling request.

That's not enough for Elaine Martin and others who have lived in the area for years.

Martin, president of the Fossil Creek Estates Homeowners Association, said the group's goal isn't to completely reject the company's right to drill.

We just want to make sure that all the guidelines are put into place by the city of Fort Worth, said Martin, president of the Fossil Creek Estates Homeowners Association.

Others said they are worried because there is no emergency preparedness plan -- and not enough emergency response personnel -- to handle a gas well blowout in the area.

There's no evacuation plan, said Susan Munkittrick, wife of Jim Munkittrick. We are boxed in by railroad tracks. We understand that it's not an average thing to have an accident, but you need a contingency plan.

The case is scheduled to come back before the zoning commission Oct. 10. If commissioners vote on the proposal at that time, their recommendations will be forwarded to the City Council.