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Natural gas leaders reflect on success, obstacles to future growth during TCU summit

By Haley Samsel and Bob Francis, Fort Worth Report
March 23, 2024

No productive wells or pipelines laid in the area when the leaders of Fort Worth’s Four Sevens Oil Company first considered drilling gas wells in Tarrant County. 

The risk scared off even George Mitchell, the “Father of the Barnett Shale,” who didn’t want to come that far south and drill in the urban environment, said Larry Brogdon, the company’s geologist at the time. 

“Each municipality needed to be educated on drilling,” Brogdon said. “We would take them on field trips, trying to get them comfortable and see what was going on. Working in an urban environment was very, very challenging.” 

Brogdon joined other leaders of Four Sevens Oil Company on March 21 to reflect on the company’s journey as Texas Christian University’s Ralph Lowe Energy Institute hosted its 2024 Global Energy Symposium. The school honored the Fort Worth wildcatters with the 2024 TCU Legends in Energy award for their work pioneering the development of the Barnett Shale, particularly in Tarrant County. 

Mitchell Energy had pioneered the production of shale gas north of Tarrant County using horizontal drilling and fracking, but didn’t want to move into an urban environment, said Brogdon. 

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“The way you made yourself competitive is you went in and got the drill sites, and the pipeline right away. Once you had that, you controlled the gas, so you really knocked the competition out of the game,” said Brad Cunningham, also at Four Sevens and the son of the late Dick Lowe, one of the company’s partners. “That’s what we did. We went and carpet bombed this place with drill sites.” 

Four Sevens acquired acreage from Haslet down to Burleson, eventually obtaining 26,000 acres for mineral rights in Tarrant and Johnson counties. They sold the acreage to Fort Worth’s XTO Energy for leases for $155 million, then acquired more land and sold it to Chesapeake Energy for $845 million in 2007. 

Hunter Enis, a former Horned Frogs quarterback and one of the partners at Four Sevens, said the company’s ties to TCU, and football in particular, were key to securing the leases. Along with Enis, Lowe also played football for the Horned Frogs. 

The football players and athletes they hired had a good work ethic and knew how to work together, Enis said. 

“One month our very top land man was a TCU football player and next was an A&M track scholar, so it seemed to work,” Enis said. “The collateral benefit of us drilling wells was a lot of employment. If you do it right or make a lot of money, you give people a lot of jobs,” Enis said.

The first thing the company talked about in the morning was not energy prices or the business, but TCU football, he added. Those ties created the foundation for the Barnett Shale boom, Brogdon said. 

“You can’t tell it by looking around the town, but in the Barnett Shale, there’s been 19,000 wells drilled. It covers 19 counties,” he said. “It’s amazing. It’s a ubiquitous zone where you can’t drill a well without hitting it.” 

The height of the boom has been in Fort Worth’s rearview mirror for a decade, but natural gas remains a major player in the global economy. 

Equipment at a natural gas drilling site owned by TotalEnergies in west Fort Worth is visible from a nearby senior living apartment complex in May 2022. (Sandra Sadek | Fort Worth Report)

Speakers at the event — co-sponsored by TotalEnergies and other major oil and gas companies — offered a confident outlook on the role of fossil fuels in growing U.S. energy power. 

However, several executives like Veriten founder Maynard Holt and Continental Resources CEO Harold Hamm cited President Joe Biden’s policies as a major obstacle to expanding natural gas resources.

In January, the president paused approvals for pending and future applications to export liquefied natural gas, or LNG, from new facilities in a move cheered by environmental advocates. Over the next several months, the Department of Energy is expected to review the economic and environmental impact of those projects, which have largely exported to Europe and Asia.

“This pause on new (liquefied natural gas) approvals sees the climate crisis for what it is: the existential threat of our time,” Biden said in a statement. 

Sixteen states, including Texas, have filed suit to challenge the pause. The country is “right back in that same old game” played by the Obama administration that prevented new natural gas facilities from being built, Hamm said. 

Hamm recalled how the U.S. liquefied natural gas industry helped Europe withstand a harsh winter as the Ukraine-Russia war cut off supply to Russian natural gas. 

“By us being able to ship out LNG, we saved Europe. One shipment of LNG will heat 1 million homes for a month,” Hamm said. “By pausing new facilities for LNG, what does that tell the world? It tells them we’re not defendable.” 

TotalEnergies operates 31 of 51 natural gas drilling sites permitted in Arlington. The Bruder drill site, pictured in February 2024, earned criticism from west Arlington residents concerned about loud noise and pollution. (Haley Samsel | Fort Worth Report)

The Environmental Protection Agency also finalized new rules to cap methane emissions. Environmental activists, including groups in Tarrant County, say the regulations will improve air quality and reduce the impact of greenhouse gas emissions on climate change. 

However, oil and gas leaders have decried the regulations as costly and harmful to small operators that will struggle to bear financial burdens of new equipment and staff. Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton has filed suit to challenge the new rules. 

The U.S. can’t entertain the notion of not using natural gas, which is necessary to fuel the worldwide economy, Holt said. He hopes tech companies will lean into support for natural gas expansion. 

“Because they’re not going to deliver on AI unless they have power, their executives are going to have to say: ‘Natural gas is a good thing,’” Holt said. “That will be a really big moment for energy.” 

State Rep. Craig Goldman, R-Fort Worth, has chaired the House Energy Resources Committee since 2013. Texas has come a long way from spindletop to fracking, Goldman said, and could continue to innovate through the expansion of nuclear energy sources

Comanche Peak Nuclear Power Plant, pictured in 2007, sits about 40 miles southwest of Fort Worth and adjacent to Glen Rose in Somervell County. The first unit came online in 1990. (Courtesy image | Nuclear Regulatory Commission)

He pointed to the Nuclear Energy eXperimental Testing Laboratory, a collaboration between four universities run out of Abilene, as an example of where the state’s energy scene is headed next. Goldman is currently in a runoff to replace U.S. Rep. Kay Granger, R-Fort Worth. 

“Nuclear, if you ask me, is part of our future,” Goldman said. “That is an exciting possibility to not have major reactors like we have in Glen Rose, but have little, mini minor reactors outside the city limits that could literally supply power to every major city in the state of Texas.” 

While nuclear research is getting off the ground, the legacy of the natural gas drilling boom looms large in the fabric of Fort Worth and especially TCU, where Four Sevens executives have invested millions. Enis and Cunningham sit on the university’s board of trustees, and Brogdon is on the energy institute’s advisory board. 

The company’s success didn’t come without “bumps in the road,” Enis said. He pointed to a gas well blowout in Haslet that caused an elementary school to close and the evacuation of people in two blocks of homes. Incidents at gas well sites in Fort Worth and Arlington, among others, have also earned headlines over the past several years. 

But the risks paid off in 53,000 acres acquired and 16,000 gas leases, the Four Sevens leaders said. 

“The whole thing started right here, and now it’s all over the world,” Enis said. 

Haley Samsel is the environmental reporter for the Fort Worth Report. You can reach them at haley.samsel@fortworthreport.org.

Bob Francis is business editor for the Fort Worth Report. Contact him at bob.francis@fortworthreport.org

At the Fort Worth Report, news decisions are made independently of our board members and financial supporters. Read more about our editorial independence policy here.

This article first appeared on Fort Worth Report and is republished here under a Creative Commons license.

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