A series featuring public images and the issues they represent.
A series featuring public images and the issues they represent.

It sits among a clutch of homes, not far away from a storage tank for natural gas.

The pumpjack isn’t operating now, but the company that owns the well says it hopes to re-start the pumping soon.

The appearance of a natural gas well in the middle of a neighborhood, less than 30 feet from a home, is startling. Then again, the location is in predominantly black northeast Oklahoma City, where an urban renewal plan has identified numerous environmental and blight issues.

Yet one resident in a home next to the well said he isn’t bothered.

“There’s no question about this – when someone is driving by, it looks horrible,” said David Smith. “But it’s functional and they’re (company officials) paying their taxes.”

Exposure - Gas Well2
Credit: Erick Payne / Oklahoma Watch

In oil and gas country, even in urban areas, little can prevent wells from being drilled near residences. Many existing wells, such as “GAST No. 1” where Smith lives, have been around for decades.

New wells also are drilled near residential areas. Last year, the Oklahoma Board of Adjustments approved drilling variances for 12 new oil wells near S.W. 134th Street and Western Avenue. Residents of nearby neighborhoods objected, but the project was approved after the owner, Texas-based Trey Resources Inc., pledged to enclose the wells by an 8-foot fence surrounded by trees and shrubbery.

The gas well near Smith is about a half-mile southeast of the State Capitol. It began production just over 80 years ago by Phillips Petroleum Co. Records from the Oklahoma Corporation Commission, which regulates oil and gas drilling, show the property was transferred to White Operating Co. in 1992.

Oil and gas well sites are scattered across the Oklahoma City area, including several drilled in the 1930s near Douglass High School, also in the northeast area.

Oklahoma City and the Corporation Commission have rules and guidelines on drilling sites. The commission’s main concern is the proximity of new wells to water, said Matt Skinner, a commission spokesman.

Exposure - Douglass HS tanks

If an energy company is able to drill a well, city inspectors must check each site annually for odor and noise issues, said Kristy Yager, spokeswoman for the City of Oklahoma City. If a leak is detected, it’s reported immediately to the fire department and Oklahoma Department of Environmental Quality.

When it comes to noise, ugliness and effects on property values, many residents near oil or gas wells just endure them.

“I don’t think you’re going to find anyone in a residential area that’s all too thrilled,” Smith said.

Erick Payne is studying broadcast journalism at the Gaylord College of Journalism and Mass Communication.

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