Critic of urban gas well drilling takes university to task

In the interest of fostering dialogue on the UT Arlington’s gas well program, I invited Don Young, a Fort Worth conservationist and outspoken critic of urban gas drilling, to offer his perspective on the program’s environmental significance.

Young is director of Fort Worth Citizens Against Neighborhood Drilling Ordinance. His commentary follows. To see replies — or to post your own — click on the word Comments in the line below the headline.



The year, 2007, will likely go down in local history as, the Year of the Barnett Shale.

But getting at the riches of the Barnett Shale also means allowing unprecedented industrial activity on a grand scale inside our communities, which should, in turn, mean a contentious battle to stop it.

But that has not been the case. Yet.

A massive “greenwashing” ad campaign by gas drillers combined with an endorsement from the only daily newspaper and the flagrant conflict of interest by elected officials seems to have arrested the good sense that most people normally have.

Money and rumors of it may temporarily shade out common sense but that doesn’t dilute the realities of how urban gas drilling adversely affects the environment and human health. What amazes me most, however, is how an institution of higher learning fell victim to greed over prudent judgment.

When UTA regents decided to allow industrial gas drilling on campus they opened the door to well deserved criticism. For starters, how can a university with a philosophy to “go green” justify peddling in hydrocarbons? How can well educated men and women not recognize the direct role they are playing in misleading and confusing its neighbors, the general public and many UTA supporters? Why don’t they realize that by attempting to hammer a square peg into a round hole they lose hard won credibility? It appears they unwisely are attempting to have it both ways by melding two conflicting philosophies.

The very idea of a Sustainability Committee rings hollow in the face of UTA’s actions. Furthermore, the timing of the creation of the Sustainability Committee in October 2007 has the appearance of trying to cover up a bad deed with an ostensibly good one.

For example, the Mission Statement attests, “the University’s commitment to sustainability and environmental stewardship.” Any middle-schooler would be able to detect the direct conflict with such a statement and the production of dirty fossil fuel on campus. By trying to have it both ways, you disgrace yourselves, the university and insult the community at large. The public expects more from UTA.

By misrepresenting the school you have opened the door to criticism and questions, I ask that you consider the following comments and concerns raised by members of the community who are now forced to share in your folly.

Short-term concerns:

-A significant new source of localized air pollution from increased diesel truck traffic and other drilling equipment. (When Rusty Ward VP BD claimed they do worse with ‘everyday’ UTA activities, he seemed to imply that somehow justified adding more pollution from drilling.)

-Increased safety hazards from large truck traffic in a small historical residential neighborhood.

-Various carcinogens entering the atmosphere during every stage of production, including, flaring. (The myth of “Clean burning natural gas” is exposed when the production of it is taken into account.)

-Increased air pollution during the burn off phase that happen each time the wells are refraced.

-Where will the toxic water from your drill site end up? Who will be affected? (Read the distinguished essay, What Lies Beneath, for chilling answers to those questions.)

-Damage to one of the last stands of old oak trees at a nearby city park?

-Increased truck traffic on an already clogged South Cooper Street.

-The very real risk of a catastrophic event during drilling/fracing – Site #1 is within 200 feet of the playground of a YMCA Children Center.

Long-term concerns:

-The close proximity of homes near the drilling site adds a significant new and long term risk of a catastrophic accident that would devastate surrounding neighborhoods during at all stages of drilling.

-See above as related to understandable psychological fears by immediate neighbors who have no choice but face the risk and their fears or move.

-Risk of pollution of water ways, local wells and the aquifer; UTA’s drill sites are in close proximity to a tributary that runs into Johnson that sits directly on top of the Trinity Woodbine Aquifer.

-Unsustainable use (waste?) of clean water for drilling purposes; irreplaceable water that the public is urged to use wisely and even ration.

-All of the above ’short term’ safety and pollution issues that will be present each time the wells are revisited – we all know that this will be long term, reportedly up to 100 years.

Any sane person who carefully considers these concerns and the decision by a university “committed to green initiatives” to drill on campus would come to the conclusion that 2007 and 2008 might also be respectively labeled the Year of the Ostrich and the Year of Foolishness.

Don Young

23 Responses to “Critic of urban gas well drilling takes university to task”

  • Thanks for all of the hard work, Mr. Young.

    There is also the fact that this type of drilling produces radioactive waste (NORM).

    “Committed to green initiatives,” indeed.

    I very eagerly await the results of the study, maybe the truth will finally come out, without the pocketbook-first spin by politicians and other “powers-that-be.”

    Something to think about–most people do not get energized until some issue directly impacts their lives…and this drilling will do just that……eventually.

    The technology (hydrofracture/horizontal drilling) is still so new that the supply of equipment cannot keep up with the demand. They simply do not have enough, and as soon as it’s produced, it’s put out into the field. Additionally, the “big boys” of the oil/gas industry have not even started coming here yet. I have seen reliable estimates that say as much as 1/3 to 1/2 of the land in Tarrant County alone will have a drilling site within the next decade or so.

    Straight from the horses…mouth–


    Eric Jahnke

  • What a hard hitting piece of agitprop.

  • Mr. Young is succinct and knowledgable and I, for one, am grateful to him for the time he takes to research and educate the uninformed masses so that people like me have a resource for education not connected to the oil companies. Anyone who takes a few minutes (as I have) to read about what is involved in getting to the oil (using our good water and ruining an irreplacable resource that we need to LIVE by, as I understand it, using the water to bust through shale) would be horrified and confused that an institute of higher learning would condone such practice.
    That assumes that the University has the best interests of the community at heart. Isn’t it sad that my conclusion is that, like so many folks in the area, the people responsible for the business dealings at UTA are infected with “black gold texas tea” syndrome.
    My husband and I are just folks. We live in Arlington and began to receive flyers in our mailbox from Paloma Oil. I was dismissing these as some sort of joke, someone’s attempt at a hoax. It never would have occured to me in a million years that these oil…mmmfph…people would come to MY door in MY neighborhood and think I would sell anyone MY mineral rights.
    When my husband realized this was an actual offer of money he said what most people would say, “So when we sell them our rights how much are we getting?” I said, “Let’s see. Well, there’s around $2,000 up front then whatever 25% of the take out of the ground in our area is, if they actually hit oil, divided by 1,100 households. Why, we’ll be rich! That should make up for the dead birds that will be laying in our yard and the tanker trucks sitting in the cul-de-sac where the kids play!” At this point my husband gave me the fisheye and said, “Sarcasm aside, you’re talking pennies a month, aren’t you?”
    Aren’t we, folks? PENNIES a month to have your homes, children, and neighborhoods exposed to exploding shale, polluted water, and those lovely towers of flame when they’re burning off excess gas. Wow. I know I’d be proud every time I ran to Coinstar to cash in my black gold that I’d been a good citizen and done exactly what the University did. They know what they’re doing, right? I mean, that’s where all our best minds are. Surely they wouldn’t lead us down the path of destruction, right? Right? Is anybody out there?
    As an adjunct to this and BECAUSE I CAN I have informed my children, now 17 and 18, junior and senior in HS at Martin that mom will be glad to pay for their education at any college or University except UTA. You may get the oil under the shale and I may not be able to stop that but I sure don’t have to send my kids and my money to an institute of learning with an oil rig on site. I want my children to be educated, not indoctrinated.

    Lisa B.

  • Thank you Don Young for calling UTA on their hypocrisy and cognitive dissonance.

    Who can forget the UTA Political Science professor who reinforced the current administration’s lie by claiming that BS drilling will make us safer?

  • Mavericks go Green?! President’s Sustainability Committee?! What a Hoot! KUDOS to Don Young and group for nailing Spaniola, Ward and UTA for their sham of a good PR attempt. Like some of the big gas drillers in the area, UT has now joined the race to flood local media with a good face on their nasty urban gas drilling activities. In Arlington’s historic district 5 surrounding UTA, we are fortunate to have professional, successful residents with a LOT of experience with non-urban gas drilling either because they worked in that industry or have wells on their country properties. Unlike UT’s Board of Regents, THOSE folks for the most part were steadfast and did NOT sign away their urban mineral rights, because they learned from past experience the damaging effects on the environment. Let’s face it, UT Board of Regents brought in a non-educator to the helm for one main purpose – MAKE MONEY – and by God that’s what Spaniola and his team is doing but at what expense to the city and its residents in which he sits in the middle! If UT was concerned about sustainability, perhaps they should have considered a wind farm in the south parking lot, but wait, the master plan calls for a huge utility guzzling ‘center’ that will need that concrete haven and more. The UTA master plan does call for some future environmental improvements but hardly enough to ‘offset’ their gas drilling events in residential neighborhoods!

  • There are other ways to generate revenue that doesn’t put thousands of lives and the environment at risk. I am very disappointed that an acclaimed higher learning institution could be so blind to the the obvious implications that gas drilling brings.

    I can’t wait to vote in a new mayor for Fort Worth. I can’t wait to elect new environmentally conscious city officials. It’s only a matter of time before something really bad happens. If land owners think they are getting rich off of selling their mineral rights, they are terribly, terribly wrong. These gas companies are robbing you blind.

    Thank you for your persistence, Don Young.

  • I was delighted to read Mr. Young’s blunt assessment of the contradictions between UTA’s commitment to environmentally sustainable practice and its choice to jump on the Barnett Shale bandwagon. It certainly does not speak well of this institution that it speaks out of both sides of its mouth regarding environmental issues.

    Assuming the the genie cannot be returned to its bottle, though, it would behoove the University’s administration to make a demonstrable commitment to its environmental agenda. Yes, the new Engineering Research Building is planned to be a green structure with a roof to match. But in the midst of a region that consistently denies the present ravages of climate change and pays lip service to sustainable development (individual green initiatives notwithstanding), a true and vocal leader for serious sustainablility is desperately needed. David Orr, whose quote prominently appears on this blog, correctly recognizes the critical role to be played by universities.

    The President’s Sustainability Committee is a good start, and Dr. Howard’s courage in soliciting and publishing Mr. Young’s position statement is laudable and bodes well for the PSC’s activist potential. President Spaniolo must go beyond his advocacy of the PSC and send clearer signals of UTA’s commitment to preserving our environment and safeguarding the University’s relationship with its neighbors (which is or far more long-term important than its relationship with the gas drilling and production industries.

  • Thank you Don Young for exposing the double standards of the state university. I want to point out that many of these questions have been posed for a long time and remain unanswered at the state and city levels. UTA should be viewed as having failed to inform the public with a drill first attitude and maybe think about answering questions later. Most recently the Business Affairs office of UTA cited a loophole in the PIA law that said they do not have to do research or gather data for public information requests. My question would be, then just when or who is going to do it?

  • I have forwarded this to a friend, Theo Colborn, author of Our Stolen Future: How We Are Threating Our Fertility, Intelligence and Survival, for her expert comments. The courage of Jeff Howard, Asst. Professor, School of Urban and Public Affairs at UTA and Co-chair of the President’s Sustainability Committee is intensely appreciated in these times when the almighty dollar trumps common sense.

  • Few members of the President’s Sustainability Committee had any role in the gas well decision. When I invited Don Young to submit a commentary on potential environmental impacts, I acknowledged that the simultaneous development of the Committee (launched October 2007) and the gas wells (drilling rig installed in November) would probably raise some eyebrows. Is this suspicion well grounded? I can only say that in my work in setting up the committee and co-chairing it for three months I’ve seen no evidence that it is. The very fact that we asked Don to air his concerns here undermines the idea that the Committee is a sop or a public relations organ. So does Pres. Spaniolo’s endorsement of the carbon footprint analysis that is getting underway this spring and that will be carried out not by the administration but by a student/faculty team at the School of Urban and Public Affairs. From its inception, the committee has welcomed – and actively solicited – public involvement. Several members of the committee represent activist and other nongovernmental organizations; and this web Forum is open to the public precisely because we want to encourage this kind of dialogue. I believe that as the committee’s work proceeds in the coming months, the results will speak for themselves. As an advocate of more vigorous public engagement in environmental decision making, I urge the public as well as the UT Arlington staff, faculty, and student body to actively participate in diagnosing problems and devising strategies to address them.

  • How many homes will be heated tonight with cold winter temperatures in the air with gas from this specific well? How many people have actually reduced their need for the gas to make this obsolete? Until those two match, a well is going to continue to be drilled. Our Universities need funds for educating, and until businesses step-up in larger numbers to give donations this big, I can’t blaim UTA for saying yes.

    This is hopefully being used as a great learning tool for geology, business, engineering, etc. departments.

    Until we have convinced our neighbors to change his/her ways and not need the energy, we have only ourselves to blaim.

  • Marie, I don’t think anyone is campaigning for a complete stop to natural gas. I am grateful for natural gas, because without I would be heating my home by burning coal like an urchin in a Dickens novel.

    But even though I am glad to be able to use natural gas, there is no truly safe way to extract it. There are ways that are more safe, and ways that are less safe, but there is always inherent, documented danger. They are known to damage the air quality and they are very loud. Sometimes they leak radioactive material. Sometimes they poison the ground water. Sometimes they outright explode. For this reason, they should not be located next door to a day care center, hospital, or apartment complex.

    I’m not opposed to drilling for gas. I’m opposed to doing it in an urban environment.

  • In a story in an energy-industry newsletter, Don Young addressed the intersection of the gas well and carbon footprint issues at UT Arlington. See

  • A spokesperson for UT-Arlington issued a statement, saying that the school and the drilling company are working to address these concerns, and are committed to finding a solution that is acceptable to all parties.

    Why do you give false information because you have not even tried?

  • As of today there Has been NOTHING done to help me. Just thought you needed to know what happens when they make you ill. My neighbor has been made ill as well and on our side of the street that is 50% with one other not feeling good. So why do you still say this is safe? Safe for the Dead maybe not the living.

  • I dont understand how you can sit there and complain about how our drilling rig is such a burden on your health and your environment yet i’m willing to bet that half if not more smoke lung cancer, heart disease, emphysema induced cigarettes everyday. Do any of you even know how much saftey and enviromental friendly equipment are on these drilling rigs? i’ve worked on drilling rigs for atleast 2 1/2 years and i am very heathly that means no migraines or any other life threating illnesses. As For the diesel powered engines that these fumes are emitted from use an offroad diesel that the EPA adopted in late 2006. Lower sulfer diesel fuel allows the use of advanced emission control technologies, which when combined, can reduce emissions more than 85%. Really i say that there are many more important things to worry about than our drilling rigs go adopt a starving kid or even a pet, there are penty of americans in need of your attention right now! so go make a diffrence somewhere else.

  • Pamela Marshall | | IP:
    To ??? and the gas drilling companies and everybody:
    I do not smoke as it happens. There are rules in place in most locales to prevent smokers from inflicting their pollution on every one else. That is where your analogy breaks down. There are huge risks to health and property all so someone else can make big profit while damaging us and we have no choice. If it all goes bad the gas companies and drillers and you will say “oh well” and move on. Injustice may be legal but not just and not right. That is good you are healthy now, living near and breathing toxic fumes may be worse than installing a well. Hope all you gas drill people in any way involved live near a well. Leukemia takes a while. Some of us actually value our lives and bodies and CHOSE to live in a nice neighborhood and raise our kids and have values—clean air and water and healthy life and beauty. Really the gas drilling industry are TERRORISTS. If the gas drilling companies were a recognized invading army taking away our water and polluting horribly our air and costing us without a choice Americans thousands and hundred of thousands of dollars in damage and health and untold long term suffering and hardship we would go to war and fight you. So put a few thousand in your pocket now and cause untold misery later for the millions whose health and life will suffer. There is a God and there is Karma. Cowardice, too, to not have a name listed, ???.

  • Sandra DenBraber

    For those of you interested My medical bills have been refused by Carrizo Oil and Gas.

  • “i’ve worked on drilling rigs for atleast 2 1/2 years”

    -But have you and your family slept near one?

    “and i am very heathly that means no migraines or any other life threating illnesses.”

    -That is good news, and I sincerely hope that continues for the rest of your life.

    The problem with what you are saying here is that you are assuming that everyone’s genetic makeup and body chemistry are the same as yours.

    That’s like me saying, “Since I am allergic to shellfish, nobody in the world can eat shellfish without having a reaction.”


    “Really i say that there are many more important things to worry about than our drilling rigs”

    -Until one shows up in your (formerly) peaceful backyard.


    “…go adopt a starving kid or even a pet, there are penty of Americans in need of your attention right now!”

    -Those are nice things to do, so I repeated them…and, more importantly, capitalized “Americans” for you.

  • The University is touting how green it is going but never researched how to drill greener without disiel. In the research I have found that drilling can be done off the power grid and that means no problems from disiel exhaust.
    If the University were smart they would have had the drilling company do it safer instead of having a company that came in and refused to negoitate with neighbors because the University had signed a deal before the neighbors were aware.
    The university contributed to the bullying and lack of follow through on health complaints and admitted to being in partnership so they must take responsibility for what they started.
    I know others have sent letters of complaints that the drilling made them ill but the treatment we all have received actually did not receive is shameful.
    How you treat the community can be reflected in how you teach. So what have you taught? It is not HONOR and INTEGRETY

  • Thanks Don Young for environment friendly support.
    Public want better from UTA Programs. All the concerns and short terms are really true.

    - David Martin

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