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Austin Personal Injury Blog

Wednesday, August 15, 2018

Drilling Regulations: How the Death of One Texan Changed the Gas Industry

How close can shale drilling occur to existing homes in Texas?

Twelve years ago, a Texas worker had arrived at a natural gas well near Fort Worth. Robert Dale Gayan had been instructed to connect the two pump trucks so that the crew could drill through another section of rock beneath the existing well, which would eventually reach the gas bearing Barnett Shale. Tragically, pressurized gas suddenly blew up the side of the wellhead where Gayan was working, killing him instantly. The incident further leads to the evacuation of hundreds of homes in the region. Gayan’s death resulted in a turning point in the gas industry, leading to increased regulation to prevent similar wrongful deaths.

History of Shale Gas Drilling

Shale gas is natural gas found within underground shale formations. Shale gas is one of the main sources of natural gas nationwide. In the United States, shale gas was first extracted in 1821 in New York. By the 1930s, the practice of horizontal drilling had begun. Texas became the main site of shale gas drilling in the early 2000s. Around 2007 the practice of fracking took off in full force, transforming the U.S. economy.

When shale gas drilling started in the Fort Worth area, some Texans raised concerns about the truck traffic and pollution. No change resulted. Following the death of Gayan, however local government officials began to take a closer look into the shale drilling industry. One of the main questions plaguing locals and officials was just how far a drilling site should be located from a town for the safety of residents.

At the time of Gayan’s death, shale drilling was big business for Texas developers. There were over 500 wells within city limits. Before the accident, it was legal for new wells to be drilled within 300 feet of existing homes. The Mayor of Fort Worth recommended doubling the set back to 600 feet. This later became the law, subject to some exceptions. Elsewhere, as fracking expanded, other states and municipalities struggled with questions of setbacks, drilling bans, and the like.

For Texans, the death of drill worker Gayan represented a turning point in the state regarding drilling regulations. While before his death, the drillers had free reign over where and how they would drill, after his death local government took back some measure of control for the safety of residents.


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