Monday, March 29, 2010

Landowner's Fears Surface

This is part one in a two-part series about the Ruggiero family and their ordeal with Aruba Petroleum in Wise County Texas.

Gas drilling abruptly upends family’s lives

09:22 AM CDT on Sunday, March 28, 2010
By Peggy Heinkel-Wolfe / Staff Writer

EDITOR’S NOTE: This is the first in a two-part series examining the effects of oil and natural gas drilling in eastern Wise and western Denton counties.

WISE COUNTY — A bit of yellow tape dangled from a short wooden stake in front of Christine Ruggiero’s house on Star Shell Road that September morning, less than a year ago.

The subtle signal meant something to someone.

On her 20-minute drive to work, Ruggiero hoped that what she saw wouldn’t become what she feared.

DRC/David Minton
Christine and Tim Ruggiero, shown on their property in Wise County in February, were surprised when an Aruba Petroleum crew came onto their land in September, taking down their horse fence and bulldozing their pasture.
View larger More photos Photo store Aruba Petroleum had already dug up several acres of land on the neighboring 38-acre homestead, drilling a new gas well on Pat and Jim Headen’s front lawn.

Angry and upset, her husband, Tim Ruggiero, had painted two protest signs and hung them by the road. A few days later, someone made an addition to one of the signs. Between a crude depiction of male and female genitalia, the vandal scrawled “you’re next.”

Christine Ruggiero, 43, dropped off her 9-year-old daughter at school in Denton and, after arriving at the employee benefits consulting group where she works in Highland Village, she took a minute to call up the permits section of the Texas Railroad Commission Web site.

Ruggiero called her husband.

Sept. 16: Still no permit, she told him.

Then her phone rang. Her neighbor, Pat Headen, had just returned home for lunch and seen pieces of the Ruggieros’ horse fence in a pile. Near a crew and a bulldozer, she saw one of Ruggiero’s horses.

“Christine, did you know they’ve got a bulldozer out there?” Headen said.

“No,” Ruggiero said. “I’ll be right home.”

She returned to find several acres of their 10-acre parcel stripped bare. At the center of the chaos sat a white pickup, Ruggiero recalls. In her sweater, high heels and dress pants, she worked her way to the foreman’s truck. He would only roll down his window at first.

“You’re trespassing,” she told him. “You don’t have a permit.”

“I don’t need a permit,” he told her. “I have the lease.”

Aruba officials said they told the Ruggiero family on Sept. 2 that they would be drilling on their property.

Ruggiero realized the horses — Nina, a Palomino paint; Sweetheart, a thoroughbred; and little Willow, a mini she’d given to her daughter — were staring at her. She began to cry.

She was gathering the horses to move them when her husband arrived about 10 minutes later. Read full story>>>