"The land is our land, not gas land."
Those words appear on a sign staked defiantly outside a home in Flower Mound, a hotbed of natural gas drilling and production activity.
The message may work as a rallying cry, but it's not true. For better or worse, North Texas - like a growing number of urban areas across the country - is a land deeply changed by gas extraction.
In Flower Mound, a town known for its careful urban planning, prairie is disappearing under gas wells, compressor stations and a maze of other industrial equipment.
In Dish, residents including the firebrand mayor are moving out, weary of the toxic fumes that leak from a network of gas compressors and pipelines so vast that the tiny town is often called the Grand Central Station of the Barnett Shale.
As wells and production equipment continue popping up alongside subdivisions across the region, more and more people in cities such as Denton, Argyle, Bartonville and Fort Worth are learning what it's like to have gas drilling as a neighbor. An industry that once operated largely out of view is now in their backyard, beside their children's school, next to their church. For some, fears of explosions, noxious emissions and tainted groundwater no longer seem so distant.
What residents have experienced so far with rampant gas development is only the beginning. In one example of the many gas drilling companies operating in the North Texas area, Devon Energy Corp. sees much in the future of drilling the Barnett Shale. To date, the Oklahoma-based company has drilled 4,300 sites, with options on 7,500 more. Every day, Devon has 12 to 13 active rigs. The company employs some 550 people in North Texas.
However, in recent years the market has not supported the gas industry's initiatives. With gas futures now at $3 per Mcf (thousand cubic feet) to $4 per Mcf, it is not economically feasible for most companies to drill. Prices will need to hit the $5 per Mcf mark to make gas drilling self-sustaining, says Chip Minty, a spokesman for Devon.
Local economists say that while the impact is substantial in North Texas, it is only part of the economic picture, albeit a profitable one. The market here does not rise and fall on gas futures.
But some residents claim their health just might.
Across the country, the gas drilling industry is under increasing scrutiny.
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency is conducting a massive study of the industry's environmental effects. News reports from gas fields in Pennsylvania, Wyoming and Colorado describe stories of sickness and ruin. Other reports from Texas, Oklahoma and Arkansas question whether underground drilling waste disposal is responsible for a rash of small earthquakes.
A recent New York Times series revealed how lax regulation allowed radioactive drilling waste into rivers that supply drinking water to cities including Pittsburgh, Philadelphia and Baltimore.
The Oscar-nominated documentary Gasland pushed the industry further into the glare of popular culture.
Today, the Denton Record-Chronicle, in partnership with the Mayborn School of Journalism at the University of North Texas, begins a series of stories exploring what it means to live in the midst of a modern gas boom.
From a living room in Dish, to a drilling platform in Wise County, to the offices of state regulators in Fort Worth, the stories detail the many ways the industry is leaving its stamp on the region and its people.
LOWELL BROWN can be reached at 940-566-6882. His e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org.
DAWN COBB can be reached at 940-566-6879. Her e-mail address is email@example.com.