Operators of an oil rig near homes in the Magnolia Creek subdivision in League City have turned off a flare that alarmed neighbors in June.

The flare, looming above rooftops, was as near as 500 feet to some homes and neighbor Mary Alice Estes said that from her back deck she could not only see it but hear it roaring.

The flare went up in the dark at about 4:45 a.m. and League City Police were notified that it was going to happen at about 1:30 a.m., League City Director of Planning and Development David Hoover said.

Neighbors and city officials alike were both surprised and outraged at the unexpected eruption, they said.

Mayor Pat Hallisey at a city council meeting took aim at the owners of the well and the Texas Railroad Commission that oversees oil and gas exploration across the state.

“We think it was immoral as all hell that they didn’t let us know,” Hallisey said.

Developer Lynn Watkins of Hitchcock, who owns the land, and Paul Mueller, of Corpus Christi, who operates the rig, have turned the flare off for now but are not finished testing, said Sarah Greer Osborne, spokeswoman for League City.

The flare was part of a test to determine the size of an underground reservoir where Watkins and Mueller have been drilling for about three months.

“They are restructuring how the testing is done,” Osborne said.

The new plan is to run a pipe about 1,200 feet away from the well site and away from the residences to remotely continue the testing, Osborne said.

“The flare will be lower to the ground and somewhat screened by trees,” she said.

It is not clear when the burn will start again, but Watkins and Mueller have assured Hoover they will provide the city plenty of notice so the city can alert neighbors before the next test, Osborne said.

Under Texas law, cities can’t regulate oil and gas drilling operations. House Bill 40, passed in 2015, gives exclusive jurisdiction to the state government and prohibits local oil- and gas-related ordinances, initiatives and regulations.

Before 2015, League City could have prevented the well from being drilled in such close proximity to homes, but after the law was passed, cities lost that ability.

Kathryn Eastburn: 409-683-5257; kathryn.eastburn@galvnews.com.

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