Here’s the Drill

An extraction technique known as fracking has unleashed not only a frenzied gas boom across the country but also crucial questions about  contamination and regulation. For Barnett Shale residents Tim and Christine Ruggiero, the answers can’t come soon enough.
Here’s the Drill
A FRACKING MESS: Tim and Christine Ruggiero have sued Aruba Petroleum over toxic emissions and property damage.
Photograph by Van Ditthavong

Looking back, Tim Ruggiero told me, he really did consider firing his shotgun. We were sitting in his dining room this summer, almost two years after the men had first appeared on his land. But he remembered the day clearly: September 16, 2009. He had been on his way back from the airport, after a work trip to Miami. His wife, Christine, had left their quiet ranch home near Decatur at seven-thirty; dropped their nine-year-old daughter, Reilly, off at school; and headed to her office.

The couple had bought land in Wise County, north of Fort Worth, in 2004. It was their dream property: ten acres with a nearby pond that was stocked with fish. There was room for horses, and eventually they’d bought two, Ninya and Sweetheart, for Reilly to ride. In the summer of 2009, however, they began to feel uneasy about their future. Aruba Petroleum, an oil and gas exploration and production company based in Plano, had sent a crew onto the 38-acre property of the Ruggieros’ neighbors Jim and Pat Headen and drilled a gas well in the front yard. Incensed by the destruction on his neighbors’ acreage, Tim had posted protest signs on his land. A few days later, he’d found one vandalized with spray-painted images of genitalia and the words “U R Next.”

So when Christine received a phone call at work from Pat that September afternoon, her heart raced. “There are bulldozers on your land,” Pat said. “They knocked down your fence. Your horses are wandering around.” Christine jumped in her car and sped down U.S. 380. She arrived to find the fence around the horse pasture sliced apart with cutting torches. The property was full of men and pickup trucks and bulldozers.

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