Shale at 10

Fort Worth gas explosion

Years before the shale-drilling boom became a national phenomenon, local governments in Texas were struggling with how best to regulate the growing industry. A fatal blowout in 2006 helped shape the response in Fort Worth, Texas.

Reporting by Mike Lee. Editing and production by Chris Farmer.


Mike Lee: This is Mike Lee for E&E News.

In 2006, shale gas drilling was relatively new and it was largely confined to Texas.

New technology like fracking made it possible to drill for oil and gas in places that had been unreachable.

Some of the best spots in the Barnett Shale gas field were thought to be directly underneath urban neighborhoods in Fort Worth.

By that April more than 500 wells have been drilled inside the city limits and the industry was getting closer to populated areas.

Don Young: When we found it could be done in the city, your quality of life in the city, industrial traffic, all the things that go along with a healthy lifestyle would be impacted in some way.

Lee: On April 22, 2006 a crew was working on a gas well just outside the city limits when something went wrong: a blast of high-pressure gas.

The blowout spewed gas for hours and fire departments evacuated hundreds of surrounding homes.

Young: I think it helped encourage more information to come out of meetings, that were going on, to discuss this issue in general that it wasn't just about the money, there was definitely a safety concern.

Lee: By 2007, shale drilling had begun to spread to new oil and gas fields around the country.

Many communities had to cope with the same issues as Fort Worth, including traffic, pollution and the possibility of accidents.

Young: As fracking expanded up to newer and bigger shale fields, I'm thinking of Pennsylvania, New York, West Virginia and places like that, people up there had nowhere else to look but Fort Worth because it was unprecedented. It was the first time it had happened, here in Fort Worth.

So they looked to us for information and they didn't like what they saw.

Lee: Blowouts and other accidents like the one in Fort Worth are rare but they underscore how seriously some communities have taken the issue of drilling in populated areas.

Blowouts, like the one in Fort Worth are rare, but they underscore the problems that communities have to cop with when drilling moves into populated areas.

Just last year, an oil field accident in Firestone, Colo., destroyed a home and killed two people.

The protests sounded a lot like the ones that happened in Fort Worth 12 years ago when public outcry forced the City Council to change its drilling ordinates.

Eunice Givens: You have created a frankenstein monster for neighborhoods in this city, and you are clueless with how to control it.