On a Saturday in early October 2011, Mike Smith was fishing on a pond on his property northwest of Dallas when he noticed a strange odor that smelled like diesel. Texas was in the middle of a prolonged drought, and the odor was emanating from a dried-out section of the pond. When Smith dug into the spot, a yellowish liquid gurgled up. Assuming that the liquid was likely a petroleum product, Smith contacted Burlington Resources Oil and Gas, which operated wells on his property, to report what appeared to be a leak. Burlington referred the matter to Targa Resources, a pipeline company that operated the lines transporting oil and gas from Burlington’s wells.
Despite being required to report the contamination under local environmental rules, neither Burlington nor Targa notified the Texas Railroad Commission, the agency responsible for oil and gas oversight in the state. They also did not conduct technical assessments to determine the extent of contamination or its cause. Instead, after Smith filed a complaint to the Commission, both companies proceeded to deny responsibility for cleanup. The dispute dragged on for the next seven years. After agency staff determined... Read more