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Fort Worth Barnett Shale Bills Filed in Legislature

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Gas rig in east Fort Worth

By BJ Austin, KERA News

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Dallas, TX – A Fort Worth state lawmaker wants the Legislature to add gas-drilling protections for Tarrant County property owners. He says their safety and property rights are at risk on the Barnett Shale. KERA's BJ Austin reports.

Lon Burnam wants to repeal eminent domain authority for some pipeline companies. Although they are technically not public utilities, the state allows them to condemn private property for pipelines. Burnam also wants to require companies to submit three alternate routes with each permit application. And, existing right of way must be considered before property is "taken" - can the pipeline run alongside a road, rather than under someone's backyard?

Burnam: More often than not, the low-income, inner-city constituents that I represent have gotten a raw deal in the condemnation process. I think this will help address that.

Burnam wants to address safety with a 300 foot pipeline setback from buildings. Pipelines must have strict protections against corrosion, and inspections every two years. And they must be odorized at the well-head, so people can SMELL a leak before it's too late.

Burnam: It would be a horrible disaster if we lose the lives of hundreds of people. And some of the worst case predictors say that's almost inevitable based on the statistical reality because of the way we have started doing our business here.

Charlie Murphy, at the Representative's announcement, lives in Fort Worth, and is all for stronger safety regulations for gas wells and pipelines.

Murphy: I cannot imagine anyone can use the term safe when you're next to a high pressure, raw gas, gathering line.

Murphy believes safety and environmental factors have been shortchanged in the rush to drill the "Shale."

Burnam admits it could be difficult to get legislative support for his bills which are specific to the lucrative drilling activity in Tarrant County.

Burnam: We are going to keep talking to industry, cause frankly, if the Governor doesn't want it, he'll veto it. So we want to talk to industry about why we think this is in the best interest for this community, and the people that stand to make a profit working in this community.

The city of Fort Worth recently revamped its drilling ordinance to address noise and safety issues. Burnam says it didn't go far enough. Fort Worth officials were unavailable for comment. Chesapeake Energy says it has always respected property owners' rights, and much of what the representative wants is already in place thru cooperative agreements.

Send E-mail to BJ Austin