Gas drilling, deer hunts meet on Texas oil fields
LIVE OAKS, Texas -- A new battle is brewing in Texas' Wild West, drawing a line between oil companies and ranchers and hunters. In the middle are massive drills extracting once unreachable oil and gas from dense rock.
It' s not always easy to strike a balance between the noisy, sometimes dirty, oil production sweeping the Eagle Ford shale in South Texas and the quiet, clean ecosystem that deer -- and those hunting them -- prefer.
Terry Retzloff has attempted to find that happy medium on his 650-acre ranch, allowing four wells to produce oil and gas, while also continuing the annual winter white-tailed deer season that runs from Nov. 3 through Jan. 20.
"A one-eyed buck with hydraulic fracturing going on in the background," Retzloff murmured as he spotted a 7-year-old, 11-point buck he' s been looking for all season. "Oh, man."
Some ranchers used to sell hunting leases to help keep their ranches financially viable, but have stopped because oil companies' cash has made it unnecessary.
Retzloff doesn' t think that' s wise.
"Those people who say this is going to last 10 years or 20 years shouldn' t be saying that," he told the San Antonio Express-News. "They can' t predict what commodity prices are going to do."
David H.O. Roth, an attorney on Cox Smith Matthews energy team, said deer hunting is a common issue in negotiations between oil companies and landowners.
"It is generally your larger landowners who are able to negotiate those terms," Roth said.
And while the oil boom has brought money and jobs into an area that has high rates of poverty and unemployment, many hunters are unhappy with the drilling.
"The deer hunting guys want the quiet and the stars and coyotes howling," attorney James Barrow said.
In some cases, landowners didn' t foresee the scope of activity that would spread across the Eagle Ford, now one of the most productive shale fields in the United States, and failed to include hunting restrictions in their agreements with the oil companies.
Charles Covert of the Covert Ranch in Cotulla, an area famous for its trophy deer, doesn' t have any production on his property, but is still dealing with flares, noise and dust from a nearby ranch.
"It' s devastating to your hunting business," Covert said, noting animals change their patterns and move around, creating an unequal distribution.
The Covert Cattle Co. Inc. sent a letter this month to the Texas Railroad Commission, which oversees oil and gas drilling, saying the "noise is a nuisance and is interfering with our business and the enjoyment of our remote ranch headquarters."
Regulations are needed to minimize the damage, Covert said.
"They need to make sure there' s the least destruction in ecology and way of life," he said. "The development preceded the plans to control it."
Frank Matthews, a wildlife biologist for the Killam Laredo Ranch in Webb County, said except in an emergency, oilfield activity is not allowed on their 45,000-acre property before 9 a.m. or after 4 p.m.-- hours when deer are most active. After a tanker scared off a deer a hunter had in his scope, the family posted signs making the restrictions clear.
"We try to get all of our drilling done before deer season," Matthews said. "The hunters do not like the oilfield activity."
Source: Associated Press