February 2, 2013 8:49:43 PM
Sarah Fowler - [email protected]
On Thursday night, Bob stood in his yard and marveled at what he saw.
"This whole thing was lit up, with this huge cloud of dust around it," he said. " It looked like a flying saucer."
Bob, who agreed to be interviewed on the condition his identity would not be revealed, stood in the middle of a field Friday, describing a hydraulic fracking operation that just started on property two football fields from his Caledonia home.
The process began early Thursday and Bob, an elderly man who has spent his life in the community, has been watching the operation intently, much like a worried farmer watches an approaching storm.
The controversial method of removing oil and natural gas from shale formations has been a cause of concern for some Caledonia residents since the town's board of aldermen signed a lease last month, allowing fracking on town-owned land.
The operation that as been the subject of Bob's rapt attention is located on the site of an old well.
Sitting approximately 500 yards off Cal-Kolola Road, the steel structure has been a familiar sight in Caledonia for some time. From Bob's property, the active well looks like an ant colony. Men in hard hats and boots feverishly move from one task to another. But mainly, there is the noise. It is so noisy in fact, that Bob has to shout to be heard when talking to a visitor even though his property sits about 200 yards from the drilling site.
Drilled by Fletcher Petroleum, the well backs up to the Buttahatchee River. While the site is considerably loud and busy, there is no evidence of a parade of heavy trucks traveling to and from the site, something opponents of fracking say is commonplace. On Friday, at least, the road leading in and out of the operation is quiet; There is one steel-bellied 18-wheeler and a trailer on site.
A Fletcher Petroleum official confirmed Bob's suspicions about what was happening on the site.
"If they're drilling, they're fracking," he said.
Fracking is a practice that pumps water and chemicals into the ground at a high pressure to fracture the rock and release previously inaccessible oil and natural gas. To access the shale containing the gas or oil, a vertical well is drilled that turns horizontal when it reaches the strata bordering the shale. The drilling often passes through aquifers to reach the deeper layers where the fracking takes place.
Fletcher Petroleum is the same company who recently leased the small parcel from the town of Caledonia with the option to drill for natural gas. For $100 the company will have three years access to a plot of land about the size of a four-bedroom house. Located behind Shop and Save, the gravel-covered scrap of earth currently supports nothing but a water meter and sewer pipe.
The Fairhope, Ala. based company has been leasing land all over the state for the same $100 rate. Caledonia Alderman Board Attorney Jeff Smith said that even though Fletcher Petroleum leased the land, that does not mean they will necessarily drill.
Since the well on Cal-Kolola Road is private property, the financial agreement with the land-owners isn't known. However, numerous Caledonia residents have allowed companies to frack on their land in hopes of striking it rich, including Lowndes County Supervisor Harry Sanders. To the disappointment of Sanders, that well proved unproductive and was closed.
Standing in the middle of a field, hands on his hips and a thoughtful look on his face, Bob is conflicted. On one hand, he has family that might earn a windfall from a successful operation. On the other hand, he worries about the impact a big strike would have on both the environment and quality of life on his hometown.
"I just want to know what's going to happen," he says.
Sarah Fowler covered crime, education and community related events for The Dispatch.