My return to the pages of the Houston Chronicle

frackingatdawnThe Houston Chronicle today published my op/ed piece on mounting safety and security issues raised by the hydraulic fracturing boom in the Eagle Ford Shale of South Texas:

A few weeks ago, Bill Blackwell turned off a stretch of road in South Texas and onto a property where crews are drilling five oil wells. Nobody stopped him. Blackwell isn’t a threat. He owns the property, on which he has a second home. The drilling company, though, is supposed to maintain a guard at the entrance.

“Somebody could have driven right up to the house,” he said. “If you have just an open area, people don’t feel particularly constrained – there are no signs, nobody to keep them out.”

In South Texas, in the rejuvenated Permian Basin of West Texas and in other drilling hot spots around the country, landowners are confronting a litany of safety and security concerns – many of which they didn’t anticipate – as they allow hydraulic fracturing on their land.

The oil boom is bringing jobs and wealth to areas such as South Texas that for decades had little of either, but it also is eroding residents’ sense of familiarity, and with it, a sense of security. Towns in which everyone knew everyone else are now seeing a boom in new hotels and restaurants overrun with strangers chasing high-paying jobs in the rejuvenated Oil Patch.

Like Blackwell, many landowners worry that contractors hired by the drilling companies aren’t taking proper care of the land. The number of rig workers – strangers – on their properties overwhelms others.

Property owners aren’t the only ones with concerns. Thanks to the oil boom, drilling companies are facing safety and security issues of their own.

In places like South Texas’ Eagle Ford shale, any drilling in the past 50 years probably involved low-production “stripper” wells that required little monitoring. Because of hydraulic fracturing, oil companies have more at stake in each drilling project. A typical well in the Eagle Ford can cost as much as $7 million to $10 million, and because of the volume of oil produced, companies must do more to protect the value of their production than they did in the old days.

Read more here.

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About lorensteffy

Loren Steffy is a writer, speaker and consultant. He is the author of Drowning in Oil: BP and the Reckless Pursuit of Profit published by McGraw-Hill in 2010 and The Man Who Thought Like a Ship, published by Texas A&M University Press in April 2012. A journalist for more than 25 years, he was most recently the business columnist for the Houston Chronicle.
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