Wise County pasture taken over by drilling company

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by CHRIS HAWES / WFAA-TV

wfaa.com

Posted on December 15, 2009 at 2:18 AM

Updated Tuesday, Dec 15 at 2:42 PM

WISE COUNTY — Christine and Tim Ruggiero had everything they wanted: A large, sunlit home in rural Wise County, land for their horses, and a little girl who thrived on it all.

Then September came, and the arrival of Aruba Petroleum.

A neighbor called Christine. "She said, 'Do you know that they have cut down your fence, and are bulldozing your property, and your horses are not put up?'"

The Ruggieros knew someone else owned the mineral rights to their land, but they were shocked that the law allowed four of their 10 acres — which they used as a horse pasture — to become an industrial site overnight.

Aruba Petroleum notified the family earlier in the month that the drilling would happen, but the Ruggieros said they didn't know it was a done deal until the day the trucks showed up.

Tim Ruggiero recalled a conversation with the drilling supervisor. "I said, 'Where is your permit?' He said, 'I don't need one.' I said, 'Where's your court order?' And he looked at me like I had three heads. He said, 'What court order?'"

The drilling of two gas wells continued. Christine kept her daughter inside, worried about diesel exhaust and a drilling mud spill on October 29.

Aruba declined the opportunity for an on-camera interview, and did not respond to questions about the nature and cause of the spill.

In a written statement, however, Aruba said the company is in compliance with health, safety, and environmental standards and pointed out the Texas Railroad Commission said soil samples supplied by Aruba show no toxins.

"He said that it was harmless drilling mud," Tim Ruggiero said. "If it's harmless, why does it smell like chemicals, sewage, and have an oil slick on the top of it?"

Aruba didn't need the Ruggiero's permission to drill, but gave them $30,000 anyway, in what it called a "good neighbor" gesture.

An Aruba spokesman stressed that the company has gone beyond legal requirements, replacing part of the fence; building a shed; and promising the family a new driveway as well as landscaping.

The idea that the situation could be worse is frightening to the Ruggieros.

"I seem to remember taking an oath to protect her, and that's my number one job as Reilly's dad," Ruggiero said. "Wow do I do that? How do I keep them safe?"

Tim Ruggiero still has no answer to that question.

E-mail chawes@wfaa.com

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