Wednesday, October 21, 2009 , Updated 10:47 a.m., October 22, 2009
UPDATED: Residents of Sycamore Heights in Fort Worth blast city about planned natural gas pipeline
As Chesapeake Energy prepares to run a pipeline underneath the homes on Carter Ave. in east Fort Worth, some residents of this low income neighborhood are livid.
FORT WORTH Brooke Cooper owns three homes in east Fort Worth. She also owns her mineral rights -- a smart idea for any homeowner living in the Barnett Shale, one of the largest on-shore natural gas reserves discovered in the United States. So far so good.
UPDATE: So when Cooper was offered an undisclosed amount of money in bonuses to Dale Resources in 2008, she signed. The rights were then sold to Chesapeake Energy; construction sites would spring up at each end of Carter Ave. as they built a natural gas gathering pipeline to transfer natural gas from one well to market. Cooper and some of her neighbors learned in the summer of 2008 that natural gas pipelines that would be laid under their properties.
Not good, from her point of view. "We were just kind of innocent prey,” she says.
UPDATE: The homeowners biggest concern, says Cooper, is that the pipeline is "a 16-inch unodorized, highly corrosive, high pressure" piece of material, and they worry about their safety.
The mineral rights Cooper owned wouldn't matter in this instance since the company only needs to pay compensation for assigning an easement to her properties. (An easement gives Chesapeake the right to use it for pipeline purposes.) And owning more than one home in the east Fort Worth area only meant more trouble, she says, as plans unfolded.
But then a bit of good news: There will be no surface impact on Carter Ave., says Justin Bond in the public affairs office at Chesapeake. He represents Texas Midstream, the pipeline company. The proposed pipeline will be located between 70 and 130 feet below ground, bored through the ground at the two construction sites located in open, unused properties on either end of Carter Ave. “It's like [the pipeline is] 8 stories underground, not 20 feet off the doorstep,” Bond says.
In many ways, Cooper's story of her Sycamore Heights neighborhood in Fort Worth mirrors the plight of other homeowners who are fighting back against large natural gas companies like Chesapeake. It also feels remarkably similar to stories heard in other cities around the country. But the difference with these Fort Worth homeowners, Cooper says, is this could be the first "pipeline of this sort" to be routed through a busy urban neighborhood.
“They're taking advantage of a low-income neighborhood,” Cooper says. “If these people had income and lawyers, this wouldn't be happening. There are totally better ways to run this pipeline, and the only reason they're doing it this way is because it's cheaper.”
Or is it? According to Bond, this location isn't the first pipeline to be routed through a busy neighborhood, nor is it an especially new process. “I think any homeowner [who has a pipeline on their property] would be offended by that statement -- to say this is a one-of-a-kind thing,” Bond says. “There are over 600,000 miles of pipeline in the state of Texas. This is the same kind of pipeline being installed to move gas from wells in many areas.” The pipe is a solid half-inch thick steel pipe 16 inches in diameter.
What is different in east Fort Worth's pipeline battle is there are more stakeholders involved, including the 60-some property owners on Carter Ave. It has also taken longer; this project has consumed 18 months. On average, projects take 6 to 12 months and generally consider two to six route options. This project has seen as many as a dozen options.
That's where the maps come in. The proposed route is a natural gas pipeline that would run underneath Carter Ave. between between Hickman and Thomas wells. (Click photo to enlarge.)
Cooper and many of her neighbors ask the question: “Why are they putting the pipeline through a neighborhood when there's a huge gas pipeline that runs alone I-30 to this Hickman well – which they want to connect to?”
But the answers aren't simple. The city of Fort Worth has gotten involved in the battle between the homeowners and Chesapeake, and the director of planning and development for the city says running the gas line under I-30 – or north of it – just isn't an option. “TxDOT says it's not a viable solution in their right of way,” says Susan Alanis. She's meeting with representatives from the Texas Department of Transportation again this week to see if there are other alternatives.
Bond reiterates that the only “constructible option” near I-30 would be to place the construction site between the highway and the frontage road – a practice that Bond says TxDOT doesn't allow.
Alanis says she and her team have worked with Chesapeake to explore seven or eight other routes besides digging underneath the south side of Carter Ave.; Bond verifies that there have been as many as 12 proposed routes. Trouble is, in addition to most of the routes having “flaws” (or reasons they aren't viable options), the city doesn't have as much power as they'd like. They're held to “reasonably controlling” rights of way – a tricky way of saying that state law prohibits them from issuing blanket decisions on projects like this. In fact, the city worked with the state on legislation this year to allow pipelines on controlled access highways (which would increase their power in similar situations), but the bill was vetoed, Alanis says.
“We have pretty significant restrictions about what we can do,” she says. “We tried not to affect neighborhood streets. In some situations, we don't necessarily have a solution that makes everybody happy.”
That's an understatement. Cooper has sent determined emails to Alanis, Fort Worth District 8 Council Member Kathleen Hicks, and others, begging them to sever plans with “this nightmare of a pipeline.”
“Do not make the Carter Ave. residents pay the price for the city's lack of leadership,” Cooper writes.
Alanis counters. “City staff has spent more time on this pipeline route than we have on any other in our community … It's a balance between the ability to recover minerals that people want to lease and the ability to regulate pipelines.”
Last week, a group of Sycamore Heights homeowners boycotted a meeting planned by Chesapeake and threw a block party instead. “Amidst hotdogs and balloons, they reconnected and planned a strategy to continue this pipeline fight,” according to MeadowBrookToday.com, a community website that recounts much of their story.
Now, some homeowners plead with the city to encourage Chesapeake to reschedule the neighborhood meeting and explain their intentions with the pipeline. Bond says that after the last meeting, which presented all 12 alternatives to the few residents in attendance, they're ready to host a public hearing with the city council and move forward.
Of note, there are at least two homeowners on Carter Ave. who do not oppose Chesapeake's current plan.
A possible next step is to put a vote to the Fort Worth city council for Chesapeake to obtain a permit to begin work in the area. Barring changes, the vote is expected to happen in November, Alanis says.
“We want to be able to start putting pipeline in the ground,” Bond says. “We would like to be able to construct this route by the end of the year.”