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CBS I-Team: Saving The Barnett Shale Economic Boom

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(credit: KTVT/KTXA) Jason Allen
Jason came to North Texas after working as a reporter for four y...
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FORT WORTH (CBS 11 NEWS) – It was just 18 months ago, the downstairs office at Purple Land Management buzzed with phone calls. People ran in and out. Land titles, leases and paperwork were flying. This week maybe a dozen people sat quietly in front of computers. No phones rang. No one came in. Purple used to have 150 people dedicated to work in the Barnett Shale in North Texas. As of this week, they don’t have any.

“Shale plays go up and go down but you don’t want to ever see ‘em just completely go away,” co-founder Jesse Hejny said. “Which for us, it’s gone away.”

Texas Railroad Commission reports show drilling permits in the Barnett fell in 2012 to their lowest level in nine years. Production tailed off to its lowest level in four years. As prices for gas continue to hover just above decade lows, production keeps moving to locations in South Texas,
Ohio and Pennsylvania, where wells can also produce butane and propane, and oil. Purple moved most of its work into those same states. Its headquarters are still local, but without public support of the industry, the future is still a question mark.

“The question we have, I think internally is, is that long term sustainable?” asked co-founder Brian Cortney. “Can we continue to do that and operate when all the business is elsewhere and be able to manage from afar.”

David Berzina at the Fort Worth Chamber of Commerce admits that work to prop up the industry is in a little bit of a “wait and see” mode. The joint task force on shale gas between the city of Fort Worth and the Chamber of Commerce hasn’t met for several months.

“Right now, the more profitable explanation is taking place elsewhere but we’re confident there’s enough for everyone to go around,” Berzina said.

Last week the Chamber was awarded the federal trademark for the phrase: “Fort Worth: The Shale Energy Capital.” It marks a shift in focus for recruiting the industry in the community. Instead of roughnecks and rigs, Berzina said they are looking for energy experts, engineers and companies that will be around for the long term.

“And we’ve got all that talent here, all that executive talent that are occupying office space, sending their kids to school, that are supporting charities in the community,” he said.

When it comes to supporting gas simply by using it, the gas capital of Fort Worth still trails behind even Dallas. Out of 14 natural gas filling stations built by Clean Energy Fuels in North Texas, only one is in Fort Worth. Two more are in the planning stages, but it is not an issue of population the company said.

“Dallas adopted it years ago and really it was from a city fleet vehicle standpoint,” said company vice president Ken Nicholson. “We are working in partnership with the city to help the infrastructure and grow a little bit more of the business on the Fort Worth side.”

The mayor’s office said part of its next waste contract includes an agreement to move the fleet of trash trucks over to natural gas within three years, but the contract isn’t finished yet.

In the middle of the gas exodus, Purple Land is actually expanding, moving into a larger office space in downtown Fort Worth. They’re ready for a more corporate feel, with all their staff on one floor. They wish it could have happened though without having to conduct so much of their business, outside of the Barnett.

“How many more business could come if everyone took a more active role,” Cortney said.

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