My name is Mary Kelleher. My husband Larry and I live in the (Trinity) river bottoms where we enjoy a small working farm and run about 40 head of cattle on the east side of Fort Worth.
Never in my wildest dreams would I ever have predicted I would be an elected official.
February 27, 2010 changed our lives. While we still work hard, pay our taxes, and follow the rules, we now recognize the importance of voting. We no longer believe most elected officials are doing what’s in the best interest of the people, and we don’t believe most government agencies exist to protect and serve the people. Our personal experience shows us most elected officials and government agencies serve big business, industry, and the love of money.
Larry and I are still happy but our lives are anything but quiet and peaceful. We believe in God, we believe everything happens for a reason, and we believe good will triumph over evil.
What you are about to read is true. This is not just my opinion on big business, industry, politicians, and government agencies; rather a chronology of my personal experience with big business, industry, politicians, and government agencies. I have supporting documentation for my statements.
How It Began
In 2003, I purchased a 6 acre tract of land in Fort Worth, Texas. The property had a couple of small barns, electricity, and water well. It was the best tasting water ever. I hoped to someday build my dream home. Some of this property was in flood plain though and I needed to know if building a house there was practical. I experienced a couple of floods where the Trinity River exceeded its banks. The flood waters quickly flooded the north section of the property but receded almost as quickly. It was a manageable risk in my opinion. I worked very closely with the City of Fort Worth’s flood plain section. I didn’t even know there was such a department. I was instructed, in detail, as to just how much dirt I could bring onto my property. I learned that you cannot build in flood plain without permission from the flood plain section because the construction may change the natural flow of water in the flood plain and negatively impact property owners downstream. My experience with Fort Worth’s flood plain section was pleasant and very informative.
In early 2006, I was contacted by a local gas company who was happy to inform me there was natural gas under my property and if I signed a lease with them allowing them to drill in my neighborhood, my neighbors and I would make some easy money. I knew nothing about gas drilling and being paid money for something I didn’t even know was there was a welcomed surprise. The drilling company even offered me an incentive to sign their lease, $1,000 an acre. $6,000 for just signing the lease. I couldn’t believe my fortune!
Later in 2006, I purchased the 6 acre tract adjacent to my property. The mineral rights weren’t included but that wasn’t a deal breaker because the piece of land was beautiful. It was dotted with pecan trees and lots of native grasses. Just a couple of months after I bought this land I was approached by a gas company who offered me $13,000 to put their gas well on my new 6 acres. I wanted that land for my livestock to graze and for the pecans trees and native grasses. The money was tempting but I was starting to hear and read about complaints by other property owners in Fort Worth about the cons of gas drilling; 24 hour construction, noise, truck traffic, bright lights, and possible emissions of dangerous chemicals. I said no. I had to hire an attorney. It took me a couple of years to pay off the attorney but ultimately, the gas company drilled their well on my neighbor’s property, 601’ feet from the permitted location of my dream home. According to Fort Worth Gas Drilling ordinances, gas wells have to stay 600 feet from people’s homes. I was a little apprehensive about the drilling next door but it really wasn’t that bad. It was noisy and there were a lot of lights and trucks but at night, the drilling tower reminded me of the Eiffel Tower and I couldn’t wait for my gas royalty checks!
In 2007, my dream home was finally built. I was so excited! The new refrigerator with water and ice dispenser was connected to my awesome water well. Soon, my house reeked of rotten eggs. The water tasted horrible. The water foamed white when it first came out of the tap. The water left a lingering slimy feel and a black, oily substance at the faucets. It still does. I put a filter on the refrigerator. It didn’t help. I ended up disconnecting the water from the refrigerator. I had no idea what could have happened to my water. I couldn’t drink it anymore because of the taste and consistency but I still use it to cook, shower, wash clothes, etc.
Media began sharing stories of other people having the same experience. Some people could even set their water on fire. My water well was tested in 2002 and no problems were indicated. Unfortunately, I didn’t have the foresight to test my water well for heavy metals and volatile chemicals. A subsequent test of my water well showed it exceeded EPA limits for Arsenic. I couldn’t believe it. Where did the Arsenic come from?
Media introduced a term called “fracking”. I never even considered the drilling of the gas well next door might be associated with the deterioration of the quality of the water in my well. People were concerned about its possible effects on ground water. I began to read about fracking.
Fracking is defined by Webster’s Dictionary as “the injection of fluid into shale beds at high pressure in order to free up petroleum resources (such as oil or natural gas).” In 1949, a patent for hydraulic fracking (fracturing) was issued and exclusive license for its use was granted to Halliburton. While hydraulic fracking has been used very successfully to extract gas and oil, scientists report some potentially hazardous impacts to our environment such as ground water contamination, degradation of air quality, increases in seismic activity, and depletion of fresh water supply. The citizens of Denton, Texas recently voted to prohibit the use of fracking. The States of Pennsylvania, Colorado, New York, Ohio, New Jersey, Maryland, Vermont, Wyoming, Alaska, and California have either banned the use of fracking state-wide or currently have moratoriums in place prohibiting the use of fracking until its possible environmental impacts can be determined. The State of Texas isn’t concerned about the possible environmental impacts of fracking and declares fracking safe. Again, I’m anxiously after reading about fracking but I don’t worry too much because I just know our elected officials and state agencies would never allow the environment to suffer just to make a buck.
Time goes by. I’m living in my dream home! In 2010, I finally receive my first gas royalty check. The checks are small but it’s free money….mailbox money is what I hear it called. I received a property tax bill for my mineral rights; $65.01 based on a taxable value of $2300. But I didn’t receive more than $200 total. I learned you are taxed on what the estimated gas production is and not how much you actually receive. Uncle Sam taxed me on what I actually received. I’m still in the black though and I’m told bigger checks are coming.
And then I received another windfall courtesy of a different gas drilling company. This operator wanted a right-of-way for a gathering pipeline. It would be bored under my property and I wouldn’t even see it. They offered me $32,000. How lucky could I be?!
In 2009, I received notification by the city of another pipeline coming to my neighborhood. I wasn’t concerned. Most of my experience with gas drilling operations had been positive up until this point.
The Dark Side of Drilling
On February 27, 2010, I learned there was a dark side to gas well drilling operations. Enterprise Products began clearing a right-of-way for the construction of a 30” natural gas transmission line on my neighbor's vacant property. The right-of-way was just feet from the shared fence line and less than 100' from my dream home. I watched as heavy equipment was trucked in. I watched a truck filled with diesel, fuel the heavy machinery just feet from my stock pond. I didn't think that fueling machinery so close to my pond was a good idea but what did I know? How could I find out if this was okay, it was Saturday and most agencies would be closed for the weekend? On Sunday, I noticed an oily sheen on my pond. I walked to the back of my property near the location the heavy equipment had been unloaded and found an empty bucket of hydraulic fluid. I had a horrible feeling in the pit of my stomach.
This is a photo of my pond a couple of days after the heavy machinery was fueled. This pond was stocked with fish and used by my livestock as a source of water.
On Monday I called the City of Fort Worth and learned there was a Gas Well Section. The secretary of the gas well section told me to call the Texas Railroad Commission (RRC). I wondered what the RRC had to do with gas drilling.
I called the RRC. I learned the RRC was the state agency charged with oversight and enforcement of gas drilling operations. I expressed my concerns. The RRC staff with whom I spoke, very openly explained the RRC was understaffed and relied on a pipeline operator's integrity for the construction and operation of safe pipelines. In my opinion, that admitted, and widely-accepted practice seems too much like the old adage of allowing the fox to guard the hen house. My concerns grew.
I contacted Fort Worth's Gas Well Section again, surely they could help me, but I was told that because this was taking place on private property and not city-owned property, the city had no jurisdiction. How could that be? The City has oversight over everything I construct on my private property.
I called Enterprise and was referred to land man Tim Taylor. At the time I thought he was just a really great, helpful guy. In retrospect, he was just doing his job…..trying to keep me quiet. I told him about the condition of my pond and the bucket of hydraulic fluid. Enterprise tested my water and although no contamination was found they issued me a check for $14,000.
Through A Landfill without a Permit
It was June 2010 and I watched as the right-of-way was cleared and the trench for the pipeline was dug. My husband called and told me the workers had hit a landfill. I contacted Enterprise the next morning and met with 3 Enterprise employees to discuss the waste in the trench. How could they put a pipeline in a landfill? One of the Enterprise employees told me that I “could call anyone and everyone I wanted” but by the end of the day, “the pipeline would be in the ground and no one would know differently.” The men laughed at me.
These are some of the photos I took of the trash excavated from the trench for the pipeline:
That same day, I contacted the Texas Railroad Commission regarding the landfill. I was referred to the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ). I contacted TCEQ and within an hour or so, a TCEQ employee made a site visit and discovered that Enterprise had disturbed final cover of a closed municipal landfill without a permit. TCEQ issued Enterprise a Notice of Violation for their actions, but despite Texas Administrative Code, Enterprise continued their construction pending issuance of the required permit.
PBS&J/now Atkins, an environmental consulting agency for Enterprise, reportedly “missed” the presence of the landfill on the NCTCOG (North Central Texas Council of Government) website. Enterprise continued their excavation of the pipeline trench through the waste material, removing some of the waste, but left waste along the sides and bottom of the trench where the pipeline was placed and sets to date.
These are photos I took of the pipeline trench. The pipeline is buried but you can still see some of the waste.
On another occasion I discovered a section of pipeline trench which had been dug parallel to my pond which was half-full with water. There was still waste material in that trench. I asked a pipeline worker where the water had come from in that trench and he told me the water had come from my pond. It appears as if my pond was breached when Enterprise excavated the trench.
I observed a pump removing water from the trench and a hose emptying that water into my pond. I contacted Enterprise and demanded that they stop emptying the water into my pond. The hose was removed from my pond and moved on to my neighbor's property instead where Enterprise discharged the water on property adjacent to the Trinity River. This was reported to several different agencies, but no agency would accept jurisdiction of this issue.
This is a photo I took of the pipeline trench parallel to my pond. The water seeped into the trench when a layer of gravel was excavated.
These are photos I took of the pump sucking water out of the trench filled with waste and the hose running to my pond to empty the waste.
These are photos I took of the waste water being emptied onto my neighbor's field after Enterprise removed the hose from my pond. The Trinity River is approximately 100 feet from this location.
I discussed with the Enterprise Landman the issue of my pond being breached and seeping into the pipeline trench. The Enterprise landman stated Enterprise would repair whatever damage they caused to my pond. They never did. My pond and all the fish in it were gone in a few days.
Natural Gas Metering Station Constructed Without Permit
While Enterprise was constructing their pipeline they were also constructing a metering station a few hundred feet from my home. I researched the address location on the city’s on-line permitting system and found that despite being nearly finished, most city departments had not approved or even had knowledge of the construction. I was told it was a metering station which measured the amount of gas going through it. All of the pipelines in the area converge here. Once metered through this station the gas would be transported through the 30’ transmission pipeline next to my home to a compressor station. I asked what the estimated blast radius of this metering station would be and was informed by city officials they had no way of knowing as pipeline mapping did not become a city requirement until 2009. I was told it would be disastrous though.
So you can imagine my fear on July 17, 2010 when I heard a loud gushing sound and watched my cattle stampede through the front yard. When I stepped outside of my home, this is what I saw:
I had no idea what was happening, but I captured it on video. The event lasted about 3 hours. Any car driving drove down Randol Mill Road towards Precinct Line Road got covered with this stuff. I videotaped the workers running into the tree line for cover. I’m still not sure what really happened.
I called the Fort Worth Fire Department and a unit arrived within minutes. The unit left after a few minutes and I later learned through obtaining a copy of the Fort Worth Fire Department incident report that Enterprise was “clearing water out of a new gas line”.
I reported this to the RRC. Their report indicated that Enterprise had advised that “only some steam was released from a pressure test on July 17th, and that no fluids have been released onto the ground on location.” A chief inspector for Enterprise went on to say that “they are permitted by the RRC to discharge hydrostatic test water to the surface” and provided a copy of that permit, HT-4774 to do just that. I did more research and learned that permit was for an altogether different location.
I contacted OSHA too. The OSHA report indicated that the “case could be closed on the grounds that the hazardous conditions have been corrected (or no longer exist)’’. Enterprise submitted Exhibits A-E to OSHA to substantiate their assertion that nothing out of the ordinary happened on that date. I obtained those exhibits through the Freedom of Information Act. Upon a thorough review of Enterprise’s exhibits, I discovered that a great deal of the information in the Enterprise’s exhibits was inaccurate and untrue. For example, Enterprise submitted copies of notifications to law enforcement for July 17, 2010 but when I contacted the law enforcement agencies reportedly notified, there was no record of any calls. The permit was for a different location. Statements that roads were barricaded and orange safety netted secured the area were untrue. I contacted OSHA to report the inaccuracies I had discovered and was told that the case had been closed and that I was “not objective” because I had made the complaint.
The video I captured of whatever happened that day was shown at the Texas legislature on March 16, 2011 and convincing enough for the House to file HB 1124 which increased the safety requirements of pipelines constructed in populous areas like Fort Worth.
Construction through Flood Plain without Permit
On September 8, 2010, Hurricane Hermine hit Texas. Most of my property is in a 100 year flood plain. I knew that when I bought it. It had flooded in the past and I knew it would flood again. However, I knew how it flooded, how much time I had to move the livestock and property to high ground, and how the waters receded. Well…I used to know!
I received a call from my husband that the Trinity River had spilled over its banks and was flowing into the northeast corner of what used to be the pond. It’s done that in the past and I knew I had about a couple of hours to move livestock and property to high ground. My husband told me the water was coming in faster than he’d ever seen and was already placing property and moving animals to high ground. I arrived home in about 20 minutes, quickly changed clothes, and waded into the now knee-deep water. Something was different. The water was rising faster than I had ever experienced. My chicken coop was already partially under water. Some of the chickens, guineas, turkeys, and peacocks had managed to find high ground while others tried their best to keep their heads above water. Many were not so fortunate. I grabbed a small plastic pool and plucked as many of the fowl as I could out of the water and into the pool. A neighbor jumped in and towed the pool filled with fowl to high ground and returned for the next load while I continued to try to save as many of my fowl as possible.
The water was rising so quickly I was forced to make a decision between property and livestock. From previous experience, I knew the waters would recede within hours and most of the property would be okay, but the animals could not save themselves.
I could hear my pig and her piglets squealing. They had managed to get on top of a pile of dirt but the water was rising quickly around them. I swam to the pile of dirt and was able to grab the piglets and take them to safety. I returned to the sow and my husband and I floated her to high ground.
My dog, Sally, led the sheep to high ground but some of them panicked and began to actually move toward the rising water. I watched in horror as the sheep were sucked into the current of the swift flood waters. My husband and I were now swimming in water over our heads, trying to reach as many sheep as possible in an attempt to get them to high ground. Floating mounds of fire ants clung to and repeatedly stung our bodies. Unknown creatures swam and slithered by and brushed up against us in the water. We swallowed mouthfuls of flood waters while we fought the current. I will never forget the sheep’s wide-eyed looks of fear as they went underwater and re-surfaced. I will never forget the look on the sheep’s faces as they went underwater and never re-surfaced. I wonder if I will ever be able to get those images out of my head. I know that we did the best we could though. I still have to remind myself of that every now and then.
One llama, two sheep, and numerous chickens drowned. Two ducks drowned but I don’t understand why ducks would drown.
The water didn’t recede like it usually did. It seemed trapped. My property was still underwater. It stayed partially underwater for almost 8 months. The smell of death lingered in the air. We lost tractors and thousands of dollars of farm equipment. Something was different? What had changed? I called the flood plain administrator for the City of Fort Worth for assistance and he discovered the pipeline and natural gas metering station had been constructed without a flood plain permit. As a result, Enterprise was issued a Notice of Violation by the City of Fort Worth for three code violations.
While I was building my home I learned it doesn’t take much to change the natural flow of water in the flood plain. Even an inch change in elevation can result in increased flooding.
Once again, I did not have the foresight to have elevation and hydrology studies performed prior to Enterprise’s construction of the transmission line and metering station. How could I have predicted I would need that? After all, I had to work very closely with the city in order to build my home in the flood plain. Why wasn’t Enterprise held to the same standard and requirements a citizen was?
Hydrology studies were required of Enterprise (after-the-fact) by the City of Fort Worth flood plain administrator in an effort to determine how much material was removed from and returned to the area during construction. PBS&J/now Atkins, an environmental consulting agency for Enterprise, the same PBS&J that found no diesel in my pond, “missed” the closed MSW landfill, “overlooked” the requirements for working in a flood plain, conducted those hydrology studies and the City of Fort Worth is reportedly still working with Enterprise to resolve this issue. The City of Fort Worth threatened to fine Enterprise $2000 a day until the situation was remediated, but I was told by City of Fort Worth staff that Enterprise is not being fined as they are cooperating with the City of Fort Worth. So I live in fear at every forecast of rain. The city flood plain administrator believed it might have been due to the amount of rain we received in that weather event but it happened again in January and March 2012 with just a few inches of rain. Again, we lost livestock and property and the water remained for months.
These are pictures from the flood:
More Unpermitted Construction in the Flood Plain
Texas 811/Damage Prevention Program
On November 2, 2010, I contacted 811, the Pipeline Damage Prevention Program in Texas, and requested to do some excavation work near the location of the buried 30” transmission line. All utilities responded except for Enterprise.
I contacted the RRC and reported that Enterprise had not responded to my 811 call. I was asked to submit a No Damage Non-Compliance form to the Texas Railroad Commission. After months of investigation, I learned through the Freedom of Information Act, that the Texas Railroad Commission fined Enterprise $10,000 for that incident. Although $10,000 is a large amount of money to me, $10,000 is a mere pittance for a company which reportedly earned a 2010 record net income of $1.4 billion, record gross operating margin of $3.3 billion, and record distributable cash flow of $2.3 billion.
Pipelines: Location Location Location
I reviewed the RRC’s GIS mapping system which showed the pipeline next to my home to be located a couple of football fields from its actual location. I contacted the RRC and informed them of this error. I was informed the RRC gave a pipeline company an excellent rating if their pipeline was within 50 feet of the actual location of the pipeline. A good rating was given when the pipeline was within 500 feet of the actual location. Perhaps this might have been a realistic distance years ago for rural areas where pipelines were traditionally laid, but in a highly-populated city like Fort Worth? A couple of inches can be the difference between life and death! In addition to the distance allowances, I was told by the RRC that the GIS pipeline mapping system was not designed to be utilized as an accurate or reliable source of pipeline location as pipeline location is a matter of national security. Does anyone really know where the pipelines really are?
The City of Fort Worth has their own pipeline mapping system but did not require operators to map their pipelines until 2009. Most of the pipeline infrastructure in Fort Worth was installed prior to 2009. It’s amazing Fort Worth has not made the list of cities who have suffered pipeline disasters.
I queried the RRC’s website for Enterprise pipeline “accidents” from 6/1/2010 to 3/11/2011. I learned Enterprise had been involved in 16 incidents. In researching these incidents I learned that 3rd party excavators were found to be responsible for these incidents, I discovered Enterprise was responsible for 10 of the 16. The incident reports clearly stated that Enterprise did not follow the damage prevention program.
I wondered how many accidents/deaths a pipeline operator was allowed before they were shut down so I called the RRC to ask. I was told there was no set number. I called the 811 Pipeline Damage Prevention Program in Texas and asked what it took to be considered a member in good standing with the 811 system. I was told an 811 member must be current in paying their dues. I called the City of Fort Worth Gas Well Division as city ordinance states a pipeline operator must be a member in good standing with the Texas Pipeline Damage Prevention Program. No one was able to answer my question.
This is a photo I took on July 18, 2011 of the natural gas metering station located on the corner of a busy, residential intersection near my home (Randol Mill Road and Precinct Line Road). This is the metering station with the unknown blast radius. Please note the high, dead grass around the perimeter of this natural gas metering station.
Imagine what could happen if just one cigarette butt was flicked into this area?!
I called the City of Fort Worth and was informed that since this pipeline and natural gas metering station are located on private property, city ordinance can only require the property owner to keep mowed the first 100’ of the property.
I called the RRC and was informed that there is no specific code which addresses the maintenance of pipeline rights-of-way or natural gas metering stations; rather, it is implied in federal code regarding the patrolling of transmission lines.
These are pictures of the gate open at the metering station next to my home. This used to happen quite frequently. The City of Fort Worth’s Gas Well inspector eventually fixed this gate as he reportedly could not locate the appropriate person at Enterprise to address this issue. Enterprise wasn’t even issued a citation.
These are pictures of our cows inside the metering station because the gates were left open.
The Fort Worth “Saltwater Project”
In July 2011, my husband and I watched some pipelines go into the ground by some gas well pads near our home. I learned this construction was part of the “Brentwood Saltwater Pilot Program”. According to Fort Worth city officials, this pilot program was permitted by the Fort Worth City Council on October 28, 2008 and was to be re-visited in 2 years. It has been almost 6 years now. The objective of this program is to reduce “saltwater” truck traffic, emissions by those trucks, and road degradation by connecting 31 gas wells via pipeline. The extracted “saltwater” from these wells would run through this pipeline to the “saltwater” injection well on East 1st Street at Oakland Boulevard. These pipelines are buried parallel to and inches from the gas pipelines.
Below are pictures of a “saltwater” pipeline and the right-of-way where the pipeline has been buried. Some of these “saltwater” pipelines have been connected to gas wells in the area but the pipeline to the injection well on East 1st Street has not been constructed. If these pipelines are in use where is the “saltwater” being disposed? No one at the City of Fort Worth or RRC seems to know anything about this.
Gas wells are drilled by forcing a cocktail of water, salt, and chemicals deep into the earth. This cocktail, also known as frack fluids, breaks up the rock formations and allows gas and oil to be released. Once the well is drilled, the gas or oil is extracted along with some of the frack fluids. Injection wells are used to dispose of these frack fluids. The frack fluids are re-injected into this well deep down into the earth.
We learned that Chesapeake somehow managed to get their permit for an injection well just before the moratorium was adopted. Unfortunately for our neighborhood, former City Councilman Danny Scarth welcomed the placement of Chesapeake’s injection well on the east side of Fort Worth. Then-Fort Worth City Environmental Director Brian Boerner explained that per city ordinances Chesapeake would only be allowed to dispose of waste from wells on the lease in that area and no other waste was to be brought in from other wells. Brian Boerner left the city and is now employed by Chesapeake. Trucks come in and out of the injection well located at East First Street and Oakland Boulevard all day and all night. Who monitors how much waste is actually being disposed of at this injection well? The RRC has oversight and inspects injection wells once a year.
In 1990, the USGS linked the disposal of frack fluids into injection wells to earthquakes.
The RRC, whose mission statement is “We serve Texas by our concern for personal and community safety.” maintains there is no data linking fracking to earthquakes.
Chesapeake acknowledged a potential correlation between earthquakes and injection wells in 2009 when they voluntarily closed their injection wells at the southern ends of the DFW airport and Cleburne.
It’s hard to believe our government is willing to jeopardize our safety and property values for the love of money.
In January 2012, my husband called to tell me a big sinkhole had just opened up on our property. I came home to the picture you see below. Just for the record, this had absolutely nothing to with gas drilling, not that I know of anyway, it was just one more thing. A fifty year old city sewer line which crossed our property collapsed. One of our blue heeler pups fell into the sinkhole and was sucked into the sewer line never to be seen again.
It became obvious that neither Enterprise nor Chesapeake was going to voluntarily take responsibility for any of their actions so I decided to file a lawsuit.
It was a challenge to find an attorney that hadn’t been retained at one time or another by gas drilling operators or who didn’t have financial interests in the drilling industry. In November 2010 I found an attorney willing to take my case but they made it clear my chances were poor since the burden of proof was on me to prove the unpermitted pipeline/metering station and unpermitted access road had caused my flooding and that the pipeline through the landfill was a danger to my safety.
My attorney explained that if my major complaints were nuisance due to the smells, bright lights, or noises of the metering station I would have a great case against Enterprise. Truth be told, the metering station does make noise, smell on occasion, and frequently discharges unknown substances into the air, but my main complaints are flooding and safety.
In 2014, my lawyer called to tell me that my expert’s testimony during depositions differed from his report and that I had no chance of winning my case. My attorney explained that without an expert witness I had no case.
I wanted to fight it anyway but my attorney advised me that I would be responsible for court costs and attorney fees if I lost. I’m not in a financial position to pay thousands of dollars but I was tempted to try anyway. I cried for 5 days straight! I couldn’t understand how on earth Enterprise and Chesapeake could not be held accountable. As part of the court process, mediation was scheduled.
The decision was easy actually. I advised my attorney to dismiss the case. Actually I think I told him to tell them to stick it up their pipeline. In the earlier years, I had independently attempted to negotiate a financial settlement thinking maybe money would make me feel better but the more I researched and read, the angrier I became. Enterprise and Chesapeake could not offer me enough money to keep quiet now. My case was dismissed in February 2014.
Stepping Out Of My Comfort Zone
In 2010, a reporter who had come to our home informed us about a group called NCTCA (North Central Texas Communities Alliance). The reporter recommended we attend a meeting and explained it was a group of people concerned with the impacts of gas drilling in Fort Worth. My husband and I don’t go out much. We stay busy around the farm. We didn’t want to go to the meeting. The reporter followed up and asked us why we hadn’t attended the meeting and we promised to attend the next one. My husband and I walked into the meeting room and were welcomed by some very nice people. When I introduced myself, the people around the table recognized my name from all of the newspaper articles written about our home and were very supportive. Other people were having similar problems. It wasn’t just us! I began to attend meetings sporadically. My husband was supportive and encouraged me to attend but he opted out, he’s more of a loner than I am. I had to make myself attend meetings and I was resentful that I had to spend my free time at a meeting like this. I didn’t ask for this to happen to us!
Later in 2011, one of the neighbors I had met called to inform me that a local gas drilling company, Chesapeake, had leased 42 acres in our area contingent on a city permit to allow them to construct a 15 site compression station facility. The neighbor asked me to speak to her neighborhood about my personal experience with the gas drilling industry. I agreed but had no idea what I would say. There were about 100 neighbors there. I had to use a microphone. I could hear my voice tremble as I spoke. I told them my story…..some of the people cried when I told them about my animals drowning…..I cried too. I told them the government agencies wouldn’t help. After the meeting, people asked me how they could help me. I really didn’t know what to tell them other than that we had to stick together. We did and continue to.
Other neighborhoods asked me to speak and I did. I never turn down the opportunity to talk with a neighborhood. As uncomfortable as it for me to speak in front of a crowd, I believe people have the right to know there are two sides of gas/oil drilling. The television commercials produced by the industry portray gas drilling as safe. The industry donates all kinds of money, playground equipment, parks, vehicles, and sponsors all kinds of attractive public events. People were so excited about what drilling was doing for our city.
For the record, I’m not against gas/oil drilling. I think it’s absolutely necessary and a financial blessing for our State. However, I have experienced firsthand the results of frenzied gas drilling combined with little to no government oversight. I think it’s ironic the government tells you how high your fence can be, how large your shed can be, if you can have chickens in your backyard and how many you can have, and how long you can leave your garbage cans at the end of the driveway yet gives industry carte blanche to build pipelines and metering stations without permits and with little to no oversight. Fences, sheds, chickens, and garbage cans can’t explode and kill you but gas facilities sure can if not constructed properly. As a matter of fact, pipelines kill people quite regularly.
Our core neighborhood group continued to meet. We started to attend city council meetings to discuss the compressor stations in our neighborhood. I had already attended a few city council meetings so I knew what to expect. I actually gave my group tips on how to make their presentations. Most of us had never spoken publicly before or knew how our city government worked, but after 2 years and a multitude of meetings, zoning hearings, and city council meetings we presented city council with 1800 signed petitions from our neighborhoods and managed to convince city council to do what was in the best interest of our citizens and not the industry. City council amended gas drilling ordinances to prohibit gas line compressor stations near neighborhoods in Fort Worth. It was an incredible victory for the citizens in Fort Worth.
Through our 2 year battle, we discovered to our disgust that many of the elected officials had received large donations from the gas drilling companies. Our city councilman at the time, Danny Scarth, was one of the worst. He overtly sided with industry. We made it clear to him that he would not get re-elected the next time he ran for office but he did. The city re-districted and took just our neighborhoods from Danny Scarth’s district and placed us in another district. That councilman was not much better though so we made sure he did not get re-elected. We worked together and now have a councilwoman, Gyna Bivens. She listens to us and questions some of the city’s “best management practices”. Gyna Bivens has been a breath of fresh air for the east side of Fort Worth.
Shining the Light on the Problems
The incredible experiences Larry and I had at the farm attracted a lot of media attention and exposed some of the dark side of gas/oil drilling. The magazine Le Politis from France asked to visit our farm. The article was called Gaz de Schiste: la ferme du malheur (Gas Drilling: The Farm of Misfortune). Public radio from Swiss International Radio (Switzerland) visited our farm and did a story entitled Gaz de Schiste: les illusions perdues des Texans (Gas Drilling: Lost Illusions of Texans). The people in Europe were watching and wanted to be able to tell both sides of the gas drilling story to their respective countries. Local newspapers, radio, and television reported our on-going troubles.
Our neighborhood battle against Chesapeake was highly publicized as well. We earned a reputation among city council and city staff as being a determined, well-researched, organized group of underdogs who could be confrontational but always respectful. At one meeting, a zoning commissioner referred to Randol Mill Road as nothing more than a goat path. From that day we became known as the Goat Path Alliance. Our group began with 2 neighborhoods. On February 4, 2012 we changed our name to The Historic Randol’s Mill Valley Alliance (THRMVA) and we are now 14 neighborhoods strong! Now most of the people in our core group hold either elected or appointed seats in local government. We’ve come a long way! We’ve learned the importance and power of working together, standing up for what is right, and exercising our right to vote for people who will represent us, not special interests.
The Difference between Politicians and Public Servants
I used to think these were the same thing but they’re definitely not. Over the years, I’ve had more experience with politicians than public servants. Politicians put their own interests before those they serve. Public servants put the interests of the people they serve ahead of their own.
Politicians are a very large part of our problem. Really though, it’s our fault because we are the people electing politicians and not public servants. It takes a lot of money to run for election. If only people with money and means can afford to run for election why is it we are so surprised when these politicians choose money over the people?!
We need to elect more public servants.
It is estimated that in most local elections only about 4% of the people vote. This is embarrassing. More people shop Walmart on Black Friday than vote in local elections! A significantly higher percentage of people vote in presidential elections but don’t you think it’s just as important if not more important to make sure you vote public servants into your local offices?!
Although I had been part of some significant successes over the years in battling industry, there were still plenty of dirty deeds by industry, governmental agencies, and politicians that needed changing. I finally decided enough was enough. It was time to fight back. It is my property, my land, my water, my money, my life these politicians are messing with. If I didn’t stand up to these false idols and bullies, who would?! I had no power though. How could I make a difference? I had never considered running for any elected office. I hate politics and I surely don’t have the money it takes to campaign.
On the last day of filing for 2013 elections, I was contacted by a woman I had recently met who had similar experiences to mine with flooding (Layla Caraway). She stood up for herself and other flooding victims in her neighborhood back in 2007 and has been fighting for the little guy ever since. I remember reading about her flooding experience. A little girl named Ally died in the flood. Layla’s house almost fell into Big Fossil Creek. No one in a position of authority seemed to care, but they did after Layla was through with them. In 2013, Haltom City dedicated a park in Ally's memory.
Layla explained she had a friend who was considering a run for one of the 3 seats available on the Board of Directors for the Tarrant Regional Water District (TRWD) and that he was looking for 2 people to run along with him. I was suspicious of course and asked what I would have to do. Layla explained she was part of a group who was looking for honest people with a passion for doing the right thing and my name had come up. I was flattered! I didn’t know much about the TRWD other than I paid taxes to them. I did some quick research on the TRWD and learned their primary mission was flood control and water supply. Right up my alley. I told her I would. I didn’t even consult with my husband. I believe everything happens for a reason and took a leap of faith. I was going to run for a seat on the TRWD board.
I told my husband what I had done when I got home. He was excited too. Later that night reality set in. I know nothing about politics. What had I got myself into?
The next few months were a blur, but I’ll never forget the first time I met the group of people who would be supporting me. As I was introduced, I realized this was a very diverse group of people committed to a common goal….change at the TRWD. They represented the Republican Party, the Democratic Party, the Libertarian Party, and the Green Party. I was so nervous, but they were very patient and explained that regardless of political affiliation, people were tired of politicians and wanted people in positions of authority who were willing to represent the people, not special interests. WATER IS NON PARTISAN.
TRWD’s focus is supposed to be flood control and water supply. When gas drilling came to Texas, TRWD made hundreds of millions in gas royalties. One would think all this money would have been put towards flood control or water supply but it wasn’t. TRWD had other plans for all that money.
In 2002, the concept of the Trinity River Master Plan came to life. The plan was originally designed for flood protection and recreation along the Trinity River.
In 2004, the citizens of Fort Worth voted for Proposition 1. The ballot read, “The issuance of public securities for street and storm sewer improvements in the aggregate sum of $232,000,000.” What the people didn’t know was this money was going to be used for the design and construction of the Trinity River Vision.
The Trinity River Vision is a master plan for 88 miles of the Trinity River. Its mission is to provide flood control to Fort Worth by converting downtown Fort Worth into an urban waterfront. The plan will eliminate the need for levees and allow people greater access to the Trinity River.
In 2005, State Representative Charlie Geren, who had been a TRWD board member in the past, pushed through House Bill 2639 which vastly expanded TRWD powers. It actually prohibited the TRWD from using their millions of dollars in gas royalties for water supply. TRWD now had the legal green light to spend the taxpayer’s gas royalty money for economic development and even authorized the use of eminent domain to do so. You may have heard of Chef Tim Love’s Woodshed Restaurant, the contaminated property in Fort Worth now known as the Coyote Drive-In, the Panther Island Ice Skating Rink, and the Panther Island Pavilion where people can float in the Trinity River while drinking beer and listening to live music. These businesses are all great money-makers but have nothing to do with flood control and/or water supply.
In 2006, the Trinity River Vision Authority was created. Its mission was to oversee the Trinity River Vision project (TRV). While the TRV is a partnership between Fort Worth, Tarrant County, US Army Corps of Engineers, Streams and Valleys, and TRWD, the TRVA is a sub-agency of the TRWD. Federal money for this project came from Congresswoman Kay Granger. Her son, JD Granger would later be named TRVA executive director.
In 2008, the citizens of Fort Worth voted for another Proposition 1. The ballot read, “The issuance of public securities for street improvements in the aggregate sum of $150,000,000.” What the people didn’t know was this money was going to be used for three bridges over the TRV bypass channel. The bridges are to be built over dry land and the water will come later if federal funding is still available by then.
I now understood why this group was so concerned. This sounded like a script from a John Grisham book.
I had so much to learn and I had wonderful teachers. I block-walked, talked with people on the phone, and attended a ton of meetings. It was suggested I not speak with the reporters from the Star-Telegram. I couldn’t understand why though as the Star-Telegram was the only paper in town and had been so supportive of me throughout my flooding. I was told the Star-Telegram editors were biased and wouldn’t allow their journalists to fairly report the TRWD election. I didn’t believe it at first but the resultant articles proved to be very one-sided. I had always thought it was the duty and responsibility of a newspaper to report both sides of a story. I discovered Fort Worth Weekly and Fort Worth Business Press. These publications are so under-rated! They report both sides and are true professionals in my opinion. I feel bad for the journalists at the Star-Telegram. It must be so frustrating to report only what the editors allow you to.
I met the man who gave me the opportunity to run for election, Monty Bennett. He is a wealthy hotelier who lives in Dallas. He owns the Hilton and historic Ashton in downtown Fort Worth. I wondered why this TRWD election was so important to him. If you didn’t know better, you wouldn’t guess Monty Bennett is a millionaire. He’s a very friendly, down-to-earth man who is genuinely serious about doing the right thing. He’s also a man who had been a victim of TRWD’s abuse of eminent domain and he was fighting back. Monty has a ranch in east Texas and was told a large water pipeline would be placed through his property. It was his mother’s property actually. It was given to her by her father. Monty’s mother didn’t want the pipeline to go through her property so like any good son he took up for his mother. Monty described his dealings with TRWD. TRWD was used to taking what they wanted and Monty Bennett was no different from anyone else they would take property from. Monty tried to reason with TRWD as there are existing easements in the area but it feel on deaf ears. Monty explained that while TRWD decisions affect him and others who live in the 11 counties in which TRWD operations span, they have no voice. These people cannot vote in TRWD elections. Actually, only certain people in Tarrant County can vote in TRWD elections. Monty researched TRWD and learned what the group had already told me about TRWD. Monty wanted change at TRWD too. Monty told TRWD he would run three candidates at the next TRWD election and he did. I ran on a slate with John Basham and Timothy Nold……wonderful men who taught me so much about water!
I really didn’t think I would win but I did! Unfortunately John and Timothy didn’t, but I beat incumbent Hal Sparks. I was so humbled by the support of the people and the sheer number of votes I received. 8,942. It was the first time an incumbent had been defeated. I was so honored. I was also determined not to let the people down. They placed their faith and their futures in me. I want to make a difference in my community, for myself, my neighbors, and the citizens of Tarrant County before we flood again or run out of water.
Since being elected I’ve met people with issues from flooding to water contamination to eminent domain; average citizens from Fort Worth, Arlington, Haltom City, Keller, Mansfield; people from as far away as Marvin Nichols Reservoir have called me to ask for help. These are hard-working, everyday people who are being run over by industry or our own government. Thousands of lives and livelihoods are being affected by decisions made by a select few. Some of these select few are serving in elected or appointed offices that they have held for decades. Some of their children and relatives are handed great jobs, some of their friends are appointed to boards and commissions who have control over millions of taxpayer dollars, while some are writing and passing legislation giving them the power to steal your land, use your money however they see fit, and grant no bid contracts to whomever they see fit. This has to stop!
Being on the TRWD board is quite an emotional rollercoaster. I have been yelled at, threatened, lied to, bullied, intimidated, laughed at, censured, ridiculed, and called names. In the beginning, I left a couple of meetings in tears. No more! With each strike against me, my resolve just gets stronger! I regularly receive phone calls, e-mails, cards, and letters from strangers who tell me how proud they are of me and to keep up the good work. This has been the most challenging and rewarding experience all at the same time. I love it and I love the people I am fighting for.
I do not consider myself a politician…..I am a public servant. Politicians seem to think very highly of themselves. Public servants are regular citizens with the added responsibility of holding the people’s trust. My mission is to serve the people who voted me onto the TRWD board. They want me to return TRWD’s focus to flood control and water supply and that’s what I’m going to do!
It’s been an uphill battle dealing with board members who have been on this board for decades, don’t want anything to change, and go along to get along. It’s been two years already and despite the roadblocks thrown at me I’ve already made some positive change at the TRWD.
Since being elected, TRWD board meetings are now televised live online and recorded so people may watch them after work since they are still held during work hours. The Trinity River is now tested weekly, instead of monthly and the results are posted in laymen’s terms so they can be more easily understood, people other than TRWD administrators are attending the meetings, asking questions, and getting involved. We now have some discussion on items instead of unanimously approving every agenda item without discussion. There is now a seismograph in Azle to test for earthquake damage at Eagle Mountain Dam. Most recently, I succeeded in removing the Exception clause from the Ethics policy I had initially been told didn’t exist. The clause allowed the general manager, assistant general manager, and board the right to make exceptions to the Ethics policy at any time for any reason. Unfortunately, general manager Jim Oliver has been doing this for thirty years. This is a huge step towards making the TRWD a more ethical institution and a significant victory for the people.
I’m proud to serve you!
A long but fascinating read. And thanks for your service!
Thank you so much Randall!
Love this blog. Please continue to write! Susan Powell (former FW resident)
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