Calvin Tillman is the former Mayor of DISH, TX and the founder of ShaleTest.
While boarding my flight at DFW to the Gasland 2 premiere in New York City, I can not help but reflect on the last eight years, and how it came to be that I would be a part of a film that would make such a huge impact around the world. How is it that a small town boy from Oklahoma, a welder’s son, would be invited to a movie premiere in the big apple?
I reflect further back to my roots of growing up in a small Oklahoma oil boom town, and the strange journey that my life has taken after graduating from the Oilton, OK High School. My mind drifts back to my childhood and helping my father, who would work on the oil well pump jacks for extra money, which became some of my earliest memories. How did I go from growing up in an oil field to becoming one of the oil and gas industry’s largest critics?
Because of my upbringing, I did not find it odd to move into an area where there was mineral exploration going on, surely this would be just like the area that I grew up in. The wells would absolutely not be placed near people’s homes, nor would there be drilling in urban areas. However, I would soon learn that this was nothing like the area that I grew up in. I would soon learn of the technology called hydraulic fracturing, which has unlocked previously unreachable minerals.
After 2005 the drilling activity in our area exploded, there were drilling rigs everywhere, pipelines snaked their way through corn fields and cow pastures. It was at this time when I was sworn in as a Town Commissioner for the small town of Clark, TX. Over the next two years, the name of the town was changed to DISH, in exchange for 10 years of free DISH network. We also put in one of the strictest and most comprehensive drilling ordinances of any town in the Barnett Shale. It also became more and more apparent that I was meant to become mayor, and lead this small community. In May of 2007, I was sworn in as the third mayor of DISH, TX.
It was at this time that a large industrial complex was being constructed just beyond our southern border. We would soon come to learn that this would be a bank of several natural gas compressors, and a processing facility. Although the industry down played this facility, it became apparent that we would soon have something similar to a refinery in our backyard. However, being a life long conservative Republican, it was difficult to speak out about the natural gas industry. However, over the next few years, that view would change considerably.
As the facility grew, the noise got louder and the odors got stronger. There were also several events that led to massive releases of natural gas. When we complained to the industry, they simply said that this was a safety feature, and everything worked as designed. They also stated that natural gas is lighter than air, and everything went straight to the moon. At this point, I was wondering if it was this bad and things were working as designed, what would happen if it didn’t?
Growing up in Oklahoma left me with certain views and opinions that were impressed upon me by my parents. One thing that I was never very good at was dealing with a bully, and I was figuring out real quick that the oil and gas industry played the bully card real well. However, the community had put their faith in me to protect them from this, and it was my intention to not let them down. Therefore, I began to get more aggressive when dealing with the industry.
Frankly, if the oil and gas industry had been half as responsible as they portray themselves in the industry commercials most folks would have never heard of DISH, TX or me for that matter. I certainly would not have been a part of Gasland. You might say that I was forced into being a critic of this industry. However, as the facility continued to grow against our will, the side effects continued to get worse.
There was a moment when the impact of what we were going through all started to come together. We were watching the acclaimed documentary Split Estate, when we had that sobering moment. The theme of nosebleeds began to come up again and again. Unfortunately, we had noticed our two young boys had been having increasing nosebleeds. Not the kind that rough and tumble boys get when they are wrestling, but these nosebleeds would happen while they were sleeping, also on nights when the odor was the strongest.
We knew at this point that something had to be done to protect our children, after a week in May of 2010 and nosebleeds by one of the boys basically every night, we made the decision to move. To move away from the only home my children knew, away from our church and school, this is certainly one of the toughest decisions I have ever had to make. Now I am traveling to see one of the worst things that me and my family have had to go through played out on the big screen, it sucks to be the example.
After moving it did not take us long to realize that we had made the right choice, the boys nosebleeds stopped immediately, and my oldest son’s asthma improved immediately. I often wish none of this would have happened, but believe that we are all put into positions for a reason, and therefore, I am committed to preventing what happened to my family from happening to others. I lost my dream home, but will continue to fight and help others in similar situations. As I look into the eyes of my seven month old daughter, I know we cannot stop. Please join me in the fight, together we can make a difference.