Natural gas drilling in the Marcellus Shale will mean money and jobs - but it will also bring health and environmental hazards, two homeowners in Texas' Barnett shale say.
"What you are about to see tonight is your future," Decatur, Texas, resident Tim Ruggiero told the more than 100 people who filled the auditorium at Temple B'nai B'rith on Wednesday.
The 5,000-square-mile Barnett Shale, which encompasses 23 counties, had 14,574 wells and 3,003 permitted as of Nov. 29, 2010, Dish, Texas Mayor Calvin Tillman said.
And the Barnett Shale is one-fifth the size of the Marcellus. Its natural gas development will be gradual - maybe over 20 or 30 years - but it will come, he said.
Tillman and Ruggiero also talked about the new nonprofit they launched, ShaleTest.org, which provides air, water and other environmental testing at no cost to lower-income families. They're already established in the Barnett shale and are looking to gain a presence in the Marcellus Shale region. They formed the company because they didn't think regulatory agencies such as the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality and the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection were doing enough to protect residents.
Tillman, who is mayor of Dish until May 14, said the northern Texas town was incorporated as Clark in 2000 but renamed Dish in a deal that gave residents free satellite TV until 2015.
With 18 natural gas wells, 12 compressor stations and processing facilities, 11 high-pressure gas transmission lines and four metering stations, Dish is the "Grand Central Station" of the Barnett Shale, Tillman said.
"We have pretty much every aspect of drilling inside of Dish," he said.
But putting those sorts of things close to homes, churches, synagogues, schools, parks and other places where people congregate isn't a good idea, according to Ruggiero.
"It's not a question of if something goes wrong, it's a question of when," he said.
Ruggiero and Tillman said they did not oppose gas drilling, but urged people to be careful and think of their families and neighbors before leasing their mineral rights.
The first thing that became apparent in Dish was the noise, Tillman said. Then came the odor.
Tillman said five natural gas companies performed a joint air study and didn't find any leaks, but they also didn't look for any specific chemicals or toxins. However, he said a study paid for out of the Dish budget confirmed the presence of multiple recognized and suspected human carcinogens from emissions in different locations around town.
Despite that it was the only home his 6- and 8-year-old sons had ever known, Tillman and his wife decided to leave Dish last year after his youngest son developed a severe nosebleed. Nosebleeds were commonplace in the family whenever there were strong odors, but after this one the Tillmans had had enough.
He said he managed to sell his house - although he took a loss on it - and made the buyer watch the documentary "Gasland" first.
Ruggiero had a similar story to tell. He and his wife Christine bought their four-bedroom house on 10 acres of land in Decatur, Texas for $250,000. It was appraised as high as $340,000.
After Aruba Petroleum started drilling on a neighbor's property a year in 2009, the Ruggieros' house was appraised by the county for tax purposes at $78,000. One of the assessment board members, a realtor, told Ruggiero she didn't think she could sell it at any price.
Ruggiero detailed the ways Aruba affected his family's life, from making a drill pad out of the pasture for Ruggiero's 11-year-old daughter Reilly's horses to pumping dangerous levels of nitrogen oxide into the air and spilling chemical-laden substances.
The Ruggieros and a neighbor are suing Aruba. Ruggiero said he has been in Pennsylvania since Sunday so his wife is attending the depositions. He said it's a good thing he's not there.
"Aruba has been nothing if not arrogant," Ruggiero said. "Now I believe they're evil."