August 7, 2008

City Council to Hold Workshop on Gas Pipelines

By Mike Lee, Fort Worth Star-Telegram, Texas

Aug. 7--FORT WORTH -- As the Barnett Shale boom pushes pipelines farther into established neighborhoods, the City Council will sit down today with its natural gas drilling committee and state and federal regulators to discuss the web of pipelines being built to serve the gas field.

Up to now, city officials have said there's little they can do to control pipelines. The companies are already overseen by state and federal law, and many have the right to condemn land.

But pipeline companies are buying and demolishing houses near Texas Christian University, running lines down a narrow residential street in Greenway, and condemning front yards in West Meadowbrook. Hundreds of people have turned out in the last two weeks to discuss pipeline issues.

Protesters plan to picket the meeting, and the Fort Worth League of Neighborhoods is holding a meeting to teach homeowners how to negotiate with pipeline companies.

"I feel it is imperative that we find ways to least impact neighborhoods with pipelines," said Councilwoman Kathleen Hicks, whose district has two high-profile pipeline projects. "That will take working in partnership with the industry, the state of Texas and others, but it is worth it to preserve our neighborhoods."

Pipeline projects so far In the Greenway neighborhood, just north of downtown, Texas Midstream Gas Services is asking for permission to run a pipeline down a narrow residential street. Hicks has asked for a delay while she looks for an alternate route.

In West Meadowbrook, Texas Midstream is planning a 16-inch pipeline beneath the front yards of 44 homes. The company filed a condemnation lawsuit against 72-year-old Jerry Horton last week after Horton turned down more than $12,000 for the right of way.

Texas Midstream is a subsidiary of Chesapeake Energy. Chesapeake officials have stressed that the pipelines would be bored beneath the neighborhoods, lessening the impact on the surface.

But pipelines can be bored only in a straight line, officials have said. The construction crews still need to dig trenches whenever a pipeline makes a turn.

In the TCU neighborhood, Texas Midstream is planning a pipeline to run down Alton Road, then turn on South Hills Avenue, and again on Carolyn Road. The company bought a house at South Hills and Alton after negotiating with the owner for months. The house is now gone, and a sprinkler system was being installed in the newly cleared lot last week.

Public reaction More than 200 people attended a meeting in the West Meadowbrook neighborhood last week, many of them concerned about the pipeline and a related gas well by the Tandy Hills Natural Area. One hundred people attended a meeting of the Westcliff Neighborhood Association, which dealt with the TCU-area pipeline.

A new opposition group, Coalition for a Reformed Drilling Ordinance, was organized last week, and its members plan to picket the City Council meeting.

The Fort Worth League of Neighborhoods and the League of Women Voters of Tarrant County have also called for the city to do more to protect homeowners from pipelines. The two groups are sponsoring an educational meeting tonight dealing with pipeline issues.

Solutions City officials have said that their options are limited. The state and federal governments already regulate the safety of pipelines, and the courts have ruled that cities can't impose their own safety regulations.

And pipeline companies have broad latitude when choosing their routes because many of them are considered utilities under state law, giving them the right to condemn land.

Some critics have questioned whether some of the pipeline companies operating in Fort Worth meet the definition of utilities, since they are wholly owned subsidiaries of gas producers. But Texas Midstream officials have said they're required to carry gas for other companies and indicated that the company follows those rules.

Assistant City Attorney Sarah Fullenwider suggested at a July meeting of the gas-drilling task force that the city allow pipelines beneath city streets. Details of the proposal were still being worked out Tuesday.

In the meantime, Hicks and other council members say they plan to press the Legislature to enact a law giving the city more control over pipeline routes.

Upcoming public meetings Noon today: The Fort Worth City Council and the gas-drilling committee hold a workshop on pipeline regulations. Officials from the U.S. Transportation Department and the Texas Railroad Commission are scheduled to discuss their agencies' roles in pipeline regulation. Scheduled to speak are a pipeline construction expert and an expert on pipeline companies' legal jurisdiction. At the Will Rogers Memorial Center.

7 tonight: Meeting sponsored by the Fort Worth League of Neighborhoods. Two lawyers with experience in eminent domain and condemnations are scheduled to speak, along with a member of the city gas-drilling task force. At First Presbyterian Church, 1000 Penn St.

7 p.m. Monday: Public hearing on the gas-drilling ordinance. A briefing on the progress of the gas-drilling committee will include noise regulations and new definitions about what qualifies as "public use." Residents can address other topics. At City Hall, 1000 Throckmorton St.


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