PONDER - Residents in Remington Park believed that when they bought into the town's newest subdivision five years ago, there would be a park behind them. Instead, Devon Energy will drill for gas.
Irene Sandell was one of more than 40 residents who filled the council chambers and the hallway at Town Hall on Thursday to protest a new pad site beside the neighborhood. She moved to Ponder from Justin to get away from drilling's encroachment on homes.
"The park would have increased my property values," Sandell said.
Now the backyard of home on Hawthorne Court is blocked by a wall the energy company erected to reduce the impact of noise and lights on the neighborhood, she said.
"A gas well near my home in Justin was struck by lightning and the explosion shook my home," Sandell said. "What kinds of assurances do we have that lightning won't strike this well and ruin my home?"
She acknowledged that event was unlikely, but added, "I'm screwed either way."
Many residents called the town's ordinance weak. Some were upset that it allows the mayor to approve drilling permits without a public notice or a public hearing. Others were surprised that drilling could occur so close to homes. Devon representative Gilbert Horton said it was 400 feet from the wellhead to the nearest house.
Residents were also upset that a formal complaint written by Veronica Kronvall for the neighborhood, which is home to about 300 of the town's 1,395 residents, hadn't been acknowledged.
Resident Melissa Holt told the council that the residents expected the council to respond to their concerns.
"We complain and the city doesn't respond," Holt said, adding that instead, company representatives came out to talk to residents. "They were arrogant, sarcastic and condescending. We elected the city officials to represent the city, not Devon Energy. As of this date, there has been no response to Veronica's letter. We deserve better."
Holt called for a dialogue between town officials, the energy company and the neighborhood.
Horton told the council that Devon Energy and its representatives were ready to meet not only with the council, but with residents, to address their concerns.
He expected drilling to begin this week.
Several council members pledged to meet with residents this weekend.
"No one on the council knew," council member Alan Gorman told the crowd. "This was the first time we were aware of this, too."
In an interview Friday, Kronvall said she called the property owner and his attorney to ask about the arrangement, since the drill site is on a large tract of land and already has a pad site farther from the neighborhood. The property owner told her they had repeatedly asked for such a meeting with the town and the neighborhood prior to drilling, but nothing ever came of it.
At the end of the council meeting, Town Secretary Sheri Clearman asked council members for their feedback on a letter the town would send to residents.
"We're looking like the bad guys here, when that's not really what's going on," Clearman said.
She said that Ponder has seven or eight well sites inside town limits, but most residents don't realize it because the drilling and hydraulic fracturing processes happened a long time ago, and the pad sites are on the edge of town.
Town Engineer Michael Anderson called the current ordinance out of date, and "not very good." He pointed to one clause in particular and suggested the ordinance may have been written for the town by industry representatives because the ordinance limits the town's capability to hire technical consultants.
The Town Council agreed to put a review of its drilling ordinances on the next regular agenda.
"I'm not sure there's anything we can do about the current situation," Gorman said. "But we can make sure it never happens this way again."
PEGGY HEINKEL-WOLFE can be reached at 940-566-6881. Her e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org .