Natural gas driller seeks expansion in Arlington amid complaints of noise, pollution

dfwnewsa | February 26, 2024 | 0 | Fort Worth , Fort Worth News

Natural gas driller seeks expansion in Arlington amid complaints of noise, pollution

Phil Kabakoff has lived in his west Arlington home for 43 years. Between October 2023 and February 2024, Total Energies drilled new gas wells at a site just over 600 feet from his backyard. Kabakoff says the ongoing noise is not worth the $92 royalty check he received. (Haley Samsel | Fort Worth Report)
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When the rigs went up just over 600 feet from his backyard, Phil Kabakoff thought he knew what would come next. 

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Since signing a 2007 agreement to accept royalties on the natural gas discovered underneath his west Arlington home, Kabakoff has seen gas drilling crews come and go. Aside from bright lights and some clanging pipes, he didn’t notice much of a difference from the normal day-to-day. 

That changed in October, when Total Energies began drilling 11 new gas wells at the Bruder site behind a gas station at 3701 W. Interstate 20. 

“It was the fracking that killed us,” Kabakoff said. “One time, I called 911 because it sounded like a plane was going to land here.” 

Kabakoff and his neighbors didn’t have a chance to comment on the new wells when Total Energies, a French energy giant known in North Texas as TEEP Barnett, applied for city permits in 2022. 

As long as Total drills within a zone approved by the Arlington City Council in 2012, city staff can approve new wells “administratively” without sending the permits to a public hearing, according to previous Fort Worth Report coverage. Activists say the policy keeps natural gas drilling — and its impact on residents — out of the public eye. 

Kabakoff and fellow residents living near gas drilling want to have their voices heard at a Feb. 27 City Council meeting, when members are expected to vote on Total’s application to drill four new wells at the Highpoint site in southeast Arlington. Zoning commissioners recommended approval during their Feb. 7 meeting.

If you go

What: Arlington City Council members will hold a public hearing about the Total Energies (TEEP Barnett) permit request to drill four new gas wells at its Highpoint site in southeast Arlington. Residents can pre-register to speak before 5 p.m. on the meeting date or sign up at the council meeting. A second, final vote is set for March 5.  

Time: 6:30 p.m.

Date: Tuesday, Feb. 27

Where: Arlington City Hall, 101 W Abram St, Arlington, TX 76010

“We’re going to be going down there to find out if anybody on the council or the zoning board lives near a well,” Kabakoff said. “I don’t think they do, because nobody has a clue what the noise is like.” 

Eleven complaints about the Bruder site flowed into the city of Arlington’s gas well inspection office between October and early February, when fracking activity tapered off. City gas well inspectors conducted noise monitoring and, in most cases, the readings complied with noise limits for gas drilling, city spokesperson Susan Schrock said. 

Total has received no violations from its activity at the Bruder site, Schrock said. If an operator is doing everything it can to resolve a complaint, city inspectors do not issue citations, Schrock added. 

“To mitigate any additional noise regarding a complaint, the gas well operator would add more sound panels around equipment,” Schrock said. “Total has been responsive in addressing complaints or concerns and remains in contact with the city and at times with the residents.”

Crews working for Total Energies’ North Texas subsidiary, TEP Barnett, work at the Bruder drill site in west Arlington on Oct. 31, 2024. Eleven complaints about noise and fumes were filed with Arlington’s gas well inspection team. None resulted in violations, according to a city spokesperson. (Haley Samsel | Fort Worth Report)

Company representatives did not respond to requests for comment. In 2022, Total spokeswoman Marie Maitre said the company has followed the city’s rules for permitting and notifying residents within a quarter-mile of the Bruder site. 

“TEEP Barnett has operated this site in a safe and environmentally responsible way that is fully compliant with all local and state requirements of our business,” Maitre said.

Other residents in Kabakoff’s neighborhood have reported air quality complaints to the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality. Several were among the 16 people who submitted letters opposing Total’s permit request for the Highpoint site, at 2250 E. Arbrook Blvd.

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Emily Nickles moved to her home within 600 feet of the Bruder site in November 2022. She and her neighbors weren’t aware of the new gas wells until the rigs went up last year. Since then, Nickles wrote, they have dealt with loud noises, chemical odors and cracks in their foundations. Her pets have developed coughs and upper respiratory infections even though they mainly live indoors.

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She urged council members to deny the new permits at Highpoint, citing concerns about the long-term health impact of emissions. Several studies have connected living near gas drilling sites with higher rates of childhood asthma and elevated risk of low birthweight and preterm births. 

“I am personally experiencing health problems that are due to unknown causes that my doctors have yet to be able to determine,” Nickles wrote. “I can only assume that because those things started once I moved here that the drilling and well emissions are to blame. The drilling has made us fearful to go outside and has made life overall more difficult and frustrating.” 

As executive director of the environmental advocacy group Liveable Arlington, Ranjana Bhandari has gone door to door to speak with residents concerned about noise and air pollution near Arlington’s 51 drill sites. She and two residents are suing the city over its 2023 approval of two new gas wells near a southeast Arlington neighborhood.

UT-Arlington graduate Rogelio Meixueiro speaks about his opposition to new natural gas wells at an Arlington City Council meeting on May 23, 2023. (Haley Samsel | Fort Worth Report)

In her 12-page submission to City Council members, Bhandari said she was concerned about how expanding drilling at the Highpoint site will affect the nearby Britannia Gardens and New York Meadows neighborhoods. About 83% of residents in the census tract are people of color, and about two-thirds are low-income, she wrote. Three drill sites are within a mile of Britannia Gardens.

Bhandari also shared video footage of emissions captured by an optical gas imaging camera over the past six months. National environmental advocacy group Earthworks filmed the Highpoint drill site seven times between August and December 2023 and found emissions each time, she said. Those emissions include methane and hazardous air pollutants, Bhandari wrote. 

“You can point to the overwhelmingly large record of bad operations inflicting harm on our neighbors with no concern for what happens to them, and no possibility of getting any redress from the people charged with regulating it,” Bhandari said. “All of that points to similar experiences in store for the Britannia Gardens neighborhood.”

Kabakoff, a longtime volunteer for the Arlington Police Department and a member of Mayor Jim Ross’ Jewish Advisory Council, said he has repeatedly reached out to council members with his concerns. 

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None, including his representative, Andrew Piel, responded directly to him. While Piel did not reply to Kabakoff, Piel provided emails showing his correspondence with city staff about Kabakoff’s complaints.

In the emails, assistant planning and development services director Richard Gertson said Total was out of compliance with noise standards for several hours between Jan. 18 and Jan. 20 due to construction of a sound barrier wall and equipment operating near the sound monitor. For eight hours on Jan. 19, the Bruder site reported noise levels above the maximum allowable amount of 66.4 decibels, according to a report prepared by environmental noise control company Behrens and Associates. At 5 p.m., the average reached 80.6 decibels.

While there may have been moments where noise exceeded the maximum levels set by the city, Piel was told by city staff that no violation occurred. 

“It has to be more than a momentary spike,” Piel said. “I asked the staff to contact the individual who made the complaint and present the facts to that person.”

Bhandari is concerned by the lack of violations issued at the site, pointing to what she sees as a growing indifference from all levels of City Hall. 

“What’s very troubling to me is how many times people have complained about noise exceeding the allowed levels, how many times they’ve complained about their homes shaking and walls rattling, not being able to hear their TVs,” Bhandari said. “They have gone back like good citizens and told this city over and over again. No action has been taken about any of it.” 

Haley Samsel is the environmental reporter for the Fort Worth Report. Contact them by email.

This story was produced in partnership with Kailey Broussard, KERA’s Arlington accountability reporter. You can email Kailey Broussard at kbroussard@kera.org or follow them on Twitter @KaileyBroussard.

At the Fort Worth Report, news decisions are made independently of our board members and financial supporters. Read more about our editorial independence policy here.

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