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The play: Will the prize of oil come at a price?

By By DIANNA WRAY - DWRAY@VICAD.COM
Dec. 17, 2011 at 6:17 a.m.

A pipeline waits for workers to bury it beneath a pasture in Yoakum. The pipeline will connect several well sites in the area and allow crude oil to travel without tractor-trailers, which roar down the road day and night, transporting the raw materials pulled from the Eagle Ford Shale.

YOAKUM - Feed landed in the cattle trough with clatter, and Les Prause grinned like a schoolboy as he watched his heifers dart eagerly toward the food, their hooves kicking up little puffs of dust from the dry broken earth.

The only other sound is a cold wind rustling the dried grass in the pasture. The air is sharp in the lungs and smells cold and clean, a place untouched by time and development. But that is changing.

Just over the hill, oil derricks dot the horizon, their hard metal lines breaking up the gentle rolling expanse of prairie.

The Eagle Ford Shale play is booming. Using horizontal drilling and hydraulic fracturing, drillers are able to get oil and natural gas out of formations that have never yielded these kinds of riches before.

These techniques yield the slick black crude that powers the society we live in, but raise questions about the process. Fracking is a controversial process. Wells have been created in places that have never been drilled before, but there are also accusations of water contamination and damage to the environment.

Some believe it is perfectly safe; others say fracking has ruined water wells and contaminated land and livestock. Last week, the Environmental Protection Agency found that fracking may have contaminated the water supply in a community in Wyoming.

Will this ruling slow the Crossroads' oil boom? As farmers and ranchers face the worst drought known to Texas since record-keeping began, the Eagle Ford Shale play has provided relief and the money they so badly need. Oil companies have followed the play up from the Texas-Mexico border bringing a flood of sudden wealth and economic growth.

The oil companies have arrived at Prause's doorstep. His family has lived on this land for generations, pulling their livelihood from the earth. His mineral rights have already been leased, and his land may be drilled any day now.

The Victoria Advocate series, "The Play," continues to look at drilling in the Eagle Ford Shale by examining its impact on the environment.

Many in the Crossroads are caught up in the boom, but at what cost?

For the main story in this month's installment, click here.

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