Oil & Gas Trouble In Texas Ranchland: Whose Road Is It?

The Railroad Commission of Texas will meet Monday morning to consider an issue of huge importance to landowners across Texas. It has to do with how the state oversees energy companies that need access to private land. At issue at the hearing will be pipelines for oil & gas.

But there are other land use issues emerging in the hot plays including the Eagle Ford shale of South Texas. One local dispute involves one particular county road, Hindes Road. It’s in LaSalle County, which lies halfway between San Antonio and the Mexican border.

Ranchers say they’re concerned that their private roads will be “taken” by county governments

Ranchers say they’re concerned that their private roads will be “taken” by county governments (Dave Fehling)

“When it rains, it has standing water and mud holes where you need four-wheel-drive,” said Steven Mafrige, who lives on a nearby ranch.

Ranchers have always shared the land with energy companies: They make money together. But this oil & gas boom is like nothing ever seen here before. And maybe that’s why this little road has become a source of conflict.

“Every rancher, landowner on Hindes Road has signed a petition,” said Mafrige.

They’ve signed a petition against the county taking over Hindes road. Because while the first few miles of the road are already county-owned, the road comes to a locked gate and the rest continues on private property.

But why so much concern?

The private road bisects land holding a growing number oil wells.

Earlier this month at a district court hearing in the LaSalle County courthouse, attorneys for the Hindes family argued against the county taking over what they said was a private road belonging to the Hindeses.

But LaSalle County’s lawyers argued the county had a right to make the road public. Otherwise, the county said it’d be like allowing landowners to act as toll bridge operators, charging all those trucks to get to the oil and gas that benefits the public.

The county’s lawyer, Chris Johns, told News 88.7 outside court he wasn’t alleging that the Hindeses were actually doing that.

“We’re still deciding and analyzing whether it’s been a county road or a public road from a long time back,” said Johns.

Also attending the hearing was Joel Rodriguez, the LaSalle County Commissioners Court Judge.

Trucks use the county-owned Hindes Road to access oil and gas wells (Dave Fehling)

Trucks use the county-owned Hindes Road to access oil and gas wells (Dave Fehling)

“The thing is your county changes. You see all this development? It’s changing, access changes,” said Rodriguez.

Deciding who gets access is at the root of an increasing number of land disputes in Texas where drilling has surged.

Eric Opiela is a lawyer whose family ranches in South Texas and is a member of the South Texans’ Property Rights Association. He recently ran unsuccessfully for Texas Agriculture Commissioner.

“If it’s your property you have the right to control access as you see fit and charge for that access,” said Opiela.

He said it’s also about preserving a way of life where your land … is your land.

“It’s not that landowners want ever increasing amounts of money as some people try to characterize it. They want to make sure they can continue a way of life that they’ve had in their families for generations.”

This story was reported by Dave Fehling for StateImpact Texas, a collaborative reporting project looking at energy and the environment in Texas. Terrence Henry contributed reporting.

This story was reported by Dave Fehling for StateImpact Texas, a collaborative reporting project looking at energy and the environment in Texas. Terrence Henry contributed reporting.

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