Life in the Oilfields – Living Next to Wells

Suzanne Franklin
Permian Basin Resident

It took our home…and it stole our nature

– Suzanne Franklin

The following is an excerpt of an interview by Michael Lewis of Environment Texas with Suzanne Franklin a resident of west Texas. The questions and responses have been edited for brevity and clarity. 

This is part of our “Stories from the Oilfields” series of collected interviews from residents of the oil producing areas of Texas and experts on the impacts of the fossil fuel industry. See our full series HERE.

Environment Texas: Could you just tell me your story? 

Suzanne Franklin: Well, it started after I moved to Verhalen. There were only three houses on the street that we lived on and they started drilling and they put a couple of wells behind us. Then they put one to the east of us, about three quarters of a mile from our house, and it was labeled “Highly Poisonous Gas Well Keep Out.” It was bad. There were some bad times. Then they put another well about three quarters of a mile west of us, which was basically the same thing. It was a pretty vicious well. And then they wound up putting a well directly across the street from us about 100 meters away from the house. 

And of course, during the fracking and all of the drilling and everything, it was just very offensive. It was 24/7 daylight. I mean, it was just bright light with the drilling, constant noise. They shone directly into our house bedroom and the living room. It was very invasive. They told us that we would never smell anything and it would never come into our home. But there were many nights that we would wake up gagging in our sleep because of the gas or the smell in the house. 

My husband and I both started getting terrible headaches. I started getting bloody mucus in my nose. And then about probably about six months later, I got to where I was feeling like I couldn’t read. I couldn’t take a breath in. So I went to the doctor, and I told him, I don’t know what asthma feels like. I don’t feel like I can get a breath in sometimes. And then he kind of sat there and looked at me and said, “you’re right in the middle of all that oil crap, aren’t you?” 

It took our home. And when I first moved out there, it was pitch black at night. And it got to where I was counting like, 26 lights just standing on my front porch. And they were just all around us. And it stole our nature. Our quail disappeared. There were a couple of times that I found there were two different hawks that I found laying on the road. They weren’t hit. There was nothing wrong with them. They just fell and died. 

We were on MSNBC a couple of times. Just an interview that we had with someone. And the company decided that they didn’t like us being there. So they contacted my husband’s attorney and asked what it would take to get rid of us. So they bought us out. That’s what happened. We got driven out, basically. 

Environment Texas: Did your husband have similar health issues? 

Suzanne Franklin: He was having headaches. When we would try to go somewhere, it would just immediately smack you in the face. The smell out there was just awful, and I couldn’t stay in. I actually moved away out of the house and moved it back into my Balmorhea rock shop. I had an apartment in there. I moved back in there for a while. But the smell around the property there was just too strong, which is terrible.

Environment Texas: You said you learned to submit complaints. Whatever came of those?

Suzanne Franklin: They (TCEQ) would send me a letter that said that they had checked it. I never saw that they had checked it, but I did get a couple of forms back that stated that they had inspected and everything was cleared, and there was whatever it was that we claimed was fixed, but it continued. The flaring never stopped. The Railroad Commission didn’t really do that much with us. 

Environment Texas: You said it was flaring constantly. Can you tell me a little bit about that? 

Suzanne Franklin: Well, it wasn’t constant constant, but more 90% of the time, that flare was burning, and the roar of the flare is outrageous, and that’s what we had to sleep with. Like I said, we were like, two to three football fields away from it. It was right across the street from our house. 

Environment Texas: So you’ve got this flare going 90% of the time. You’ve got light streaming into your bedroom. You’ve got the roar going on. Your husband has headaches. You’ve got breathing problems that have developed. If there was one thing that you could do, what would it have been? 

Suzanne Franklin: Shut them down. Just shut them down. They destroyed it out there. There’s no darkness anymore. They put up what is called the cryogenic plant, which it’s like a small city of its own. The lights in that place are just like I said, it looks like a small city all lit up at night. And it just destroyed everything out there. Living out there is just driving past our house now or where our house had stood. There’s two more wells on our property. And I now know why they wanted that property. They wanted our property because we lived on a fault line. And that would give them direct access. Because they had approached my husband before and asked if they could get the right and he told them no. 

Environment Texas: It almost sounds like they kind of drilled around you and made it as obnoxious as possible. 

Suzanne Franklin: Exactly. That’s exactly what we felt. Because there were three homes there, right? Three homes in a row. Our home had a well in front of it. The next home was basically just these pipelines that were sticking up and they were pointing at the house. And then the next house had another well in front of it. And they had moved out. They gave up and got out of there. 

Environment Texas: The Permian is responsible for the majority of fossil fuel production from Texas. It’s one of the largest oil fields in the world, but a lot of people don’t visit it. Very few people even drive through it. What would you tell people who have never been to your area of Texas that they need to know about what it’s like out there? 

Suzanne Franklin: Well, like I said, they’ve stolen the nature. It was so beautiful before, so still and quiet, and you can walk out and hear the crickets. And all our bunny rabbits disappeared. We had roadrunners that were living in the tree. They disappeared. I actually had some pictures that were emailed to me about a couple of coyotes laying dead next to one of those waters tank things where they dump the bad water and they’ve just stolen it. They’ve ruined it. 

But when you start going towards Balmorhea, I don’t know if you’ve ever taken this drive or not, but when you come up over the Wild Rose path and you see that black crap hanging in the air, it’s like, I don’t want to go any further. I want to turn around and go home. And anytime we have to go to Odessa, I always make sure I take an inhaler. And we always, almost always come home with a headache because we have to drive right through that area.