Booms lie across Brush Creek on Friday to catch oil seepage from John Gouldener’s property in Fairview. It’s unclear how much oil is under his land. / Jeanne Reasonover / The Tennessean
FAIRVIEW - Since finding oil under his land, the
Rev. John Gouldener hasn't dreamed of riches. Instead, he's worried how
much the oil might end up costing him.
more than a week, state and local officials have tried to corral the
oil that's seeping out of Gouldener's property into nearby Brush Creek,
outside Fairview's city limits. The smell of oil is heavy around the
creek as absorbent "booms" sop up the oil flowing into it through holes
along a creek bank and from the creek bed.
environmental inspectors suspect the oil is coming from a small,
naturally occurring underground oil pocket that was likely disturbed
after a drilling crew installed a drinking water well for Gouldener on
the property. A definite cause of the oil leak has not been determined.
on the other few oil discoveries in Middle Tennessee, geologists expect
Gouldener's oil to taper off shortly, although it was still flowing
into the creek this weekend. If the oil flow doesn't stop soon, however,
state officials warn that a more aggressive plan must be taken, though
a timeline hasn't been spelled out yet.
pastor of Crossroad Community Church in Nashville, fears the oil
discovery has put him between a rock and a hard place.
want to do the right thing even if it costs me money," said Gouldener,
66, "but I don't want to do the wrong thing, and it cost me money."
Water well dug months before leak began
is rare in Middle Tennessee, especially in Williamson County, where the
county's 77 wells are all classified as water wells or dry and
abandoned, state records show. There is no active permitting of oil or
gas wells in Williamson County.
Fairview, questions linger about the oil leaking into Brush Creek since
no one knows when the leaking actually began, nor how much oil has
seeped out, nor how much longer it's expected to leak out.
hired Franklin-based Henry Drilling & Pump Co. Inc. in the fall to
dig a new water well for his property on Brush Creek Road after the
underground spring on the property dried up. He bought the property
about a year ago.
Drillers hit a pocket of methane gas while digging the water well,
which happens frequently, but no oil was found, said drilling company
president Michael Henry.
"We've drilled thousands of wells, and we've never hit oil," Henry said. "We have no reason to believe there's oil in the well."
said no state drilling rules were violated and the drilling was for a
water well. It was completely unrelated to "fracking," a natural gas
extraction practice that opponents say pollutes water wells.
Henry is skeptical the water well caused the oil leak, noting that the well is about 400 feet away from the creek.
"It could be all the rain we've had that's pushed this out of the ground," Henry said about the oil.
Oil discovered in January
first sighting of oil came in January, when Gouldener said he noticed a
light sheen of oil on the water, but he didn't know its source.
regulators first learned about the oil Jan. 30 when an unidentified
caller called the Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation,
saying oil had been in the creek for three weeks. A state water
pollution inspector visited the creek, but no sheen of oil was seen
upstream and the oil seemed to only surface in one particular area,
second complaint about the oil was phoned in a week later on Feb. 7,
which sent state and county emergency management officials to
Gouldener's property, catching him by surprise. While he's been told the
oil is a miniscule amount and merely a nuisance, he's also aware state
officials could order him to seal up the well.
regulations say anyone installing a water well must seal off saltwater,
oil, gas or any other fluid or material that might contaminate fresh
seep does not stop in a reasonable amount of time and if we feel there
has been environmental harm, we would consider requiring a corrective
action plan at the well head," Lockhart said.
wants further meetings with the Henry drilling company and state
regulators about the matter and is candid about his worries about the
oil, the creek and his property. But he's also trying to keep his sense
of humor about the discovery of oil on his land.
asked the (state) geologist, 'Am I next the Jed Clampett?' " said
Gouldener, bringing up the 1960s TV hillbilly-turned-oilman character,
"and he said, 'Sorry to tell you, no.' "