Continued from page 1

Ron Hilliard’s decision to have two wells drilled on his land, a half-mile from a Starbucks, two schools and hundreds of homes, brought vandalism, anonymous phone calls and insulting blogs and columns. He finally complained to police.

“I owned my mineral rights,” Hilliard says defiantly. “So I’m not doing anything wrong.” Hilliard, owner of a wholesale lumber business, would not disclose what he was paid for the lease or gas royalties.

Truck traffic on largely suburban roads in the Flower Mound area has increased significantly and the community has endured at least three major spills of thousands of gallons of production liquids. The Environmental Protection Agency suspects fracking may have contributed to water well contamination in Denton County _ where Flower Mound and another drilling town, Dish, are located_ and other Barnett Shale drilling areas.

The issues in Flower Mound simmered for months, then boiled over at a January 2010 city council hearing on a proposed plant to treat toxic fracking wastewater. About 600 people showed up, many against the plant, but the council set the plan in motion anyway.

That galvanized anti-drilling forces. After a bitter campaign, the town’s pro-drilling mayor, Jody Smith, was ousted and an anti-drilling slate swept into office.

Less than 15 miles away is the rural town of Dish, population about 200, where Mayor Calvin Tillman raised a national ruckus about gas drilling. The Dish area now has about 60 drilling wells, gas production pads and rigs, 12 pipelines, a treating facility and a compressor station.

Cancer-causing benzene, sometimes in levels considered dangerous to human health, were reported last year by Texas environmental regulators who took air tests in the Dish area. Residents believe at least one domestic water well was contaminated and that gas operations killed horses on a ranch not far from the compressor _ a claim the gas companies dispute.

Tillman, whose home is about a quarter-mile from the compressor, was afraid for his two sons’ health. Bad drilling odors coincided with nightly spikes in air emissions from the compression station, Tillman said on his blog, and were so bad that both of his youngsters were often awakened in the middle of the night with severe nosebleeds.

By February, Tillman decided to leave the community in which he had invested time, money and his heart. It was tough, he said.

“But it would be a whole lot tougher if my kids came down with some strange illness in five years,” he added.


New York, sitting atop the vast Marcellus Shale, has enacted a drilling moratorium that holds the wealth at bay while new regulations are drawn up. New Yorkers _ some wary, some perhaps jealous _ watch as landowners in Pennsylvania, Texas and other states get rich while regulators struggle with explosions, spills and tainted water.

“People that don’t own the land are saying, ‘Let’s slow down and learn from the mistakes of other places,’” said Matthew Ryan, mayor of Binghamton, N.Y., in shale country about 70 miles northwest of Damascus. “Those that own land are anxious to ‘drill, baby, drill.’”

Binghamton hosted the EPA last September for the last of four national hearings to get public input on the environmental and public health impacts of fracking as the agency prepares for a national study on drinking water impacts.

EPA said 3,500 people crowded its hearings in Denver, Fort Worth, Texas, Canonsburg, Pa., and Binghamton. In New York, opponents carried signs saying “Kids can’t drink gas,” while supporters, including union workers eager for jobs, chanted “Pass gas now!”

Story Continues →