Liveblogging's A Gas at City Hall, As Plan Commission Denies XTO's Drill Site Application

MountainCreekLake_flickr.jpeg
Flickr user Schlüsselbein2007
Mountain Creek Lake in far western Oak Cliff, which could be the site of Dallas's first gas drilling operation.
[Update at 6:45: To spare you the trouble of reading all the way through, here's the news. With a 7-6 vote, the commission denied XTO Energy's application for an SUP to drill at Hensely Field. XTO can now appeal that decision to the City Council, which will, you have to imagine, find it tough to deny a company's request to drill on a site it's leasing from the city for gas drilling purposes. Should be fun.]

Hard to believe it's been a month already since we last gathered 'round the big horseshoe at 1500 Marilla to enjoy the fine company of the City Plan Commission as they considered XTO Energy's proposal to develop the city's first gas drilling site at Hensley Field in far west Oak Cliff.

You'll recall we spent a few hours in here back on September 16, as XTO's Walter Dueease gamely made his company's case and a handful of drilling opponents offered their objections.

Highlights among the commissioner's responses at that time: Michael Davis is an outspoken skeptic, Mike Anglin has grown into something of a gas industry wonk, and Sally Wolfish fondly recalls the unique joy of a fresh cheese steak on the streets of Philly. After Anglin proposed a slate of extra safeguards to tack onto XTO's proposal, commissioners agreed to take a month to bone up on the facts before voting, and we all went home to a cocktail of "marijuana, pharmaceuticals, BP, asbestos, arsenic" at the suggestion of commissioner Liz Wally.

Crowd's much bigger in here today, thanks largely to the organizing efforts of Dallas Area Residents for Responsible Drilling and Dallas Citizens for a Temporary Moratorium on Gas Drilling. Jump for a long blow-by-blow that'll continue down in the comments as the meeting runs on.

Dueease has just returned to the room, walking slowly down to his front-row seat with a fair-sized fountain drink for sustenance through the drubbing that's sure to come. Commissioners are turning to the gas drilling item now, with instructions to keep it brief and watch the clock. Commissioner Bill Peterson suggests a 20-minute speaking period for each side of the debate, five minutes longer than the usual. Doubt if that'll make a dent in the speaker lineup, but it's a nice start.

Dueease is here with backup today, and navy-suited Dallas Cothrum from Masterplan Consultants takes the podium to remind commissioners of the great contribution gas industry jobs have made to the local economy. "We've agreed to solve the typical zoning problems," he says, reminding commissioners XTO isn't asking for special treatment here. "Compared to other developments," he says, traffic's not that much higher. "We think this is an excellent drill site. A small portion of the city of Dallas is impacted by this," he says.

Now Davis calls speakers opposing the specific use permit for XTO's drill site to come on down to the front, and DARRD's Raymond Crawford kicks things off for the nay-sayers. Crawford says he's heard a lot about noise, and even about air pollution, but very little about the families who live in the Bella Lagos neighborhood around Hensley Field. They live with helicopter noise from Hensley Field but have no idea what gas drilling could mean to their neighborhood. "Those of you who live in South Dallas," he says, "who think a gas well could never be drilled near you, well, you're wrong."

Mariana Griggs is up next, saying she's here representing her neighbors in the Cliff, and around Bella Lagos. Griggs says she was shocked to see Cothrum speaking for XTO today, when XTO had spoken for themselves up till now. Jenny Land, with Dallas Citizens for a Temporary Moratorium, says the issue's controversial "because citizens were not included in this process." She says this issue is one with "profound public health" issues and that Texas's regulatory funding hasn't kept pace with the explosion of the natural gas business. "What we do know is that benzene is a carcinogen," she says, "and it's being released from 20 percent of Texas wells." If the commission votes to allow drilling in the city, she says, she's ready to become the face of the issue. "I will go door to door for as long as it takes to reverse that vote," she says.

Timothy Ruggiero is up next, to let commissioners know his Wise County property has lost value since gas drilling took up in his neighborhood. His neighbors Bob and Lisa Parr left their home there last month, after methane in their home hit asphyxiation levels.

"This is a scary issue," offers Cherelle Blazer of the Environmental Defense Fund, and while she says she's not trying to scare the commissioners, "the facts about emissions from gas drilling are very scary." Fort Worth and Denton are both spending hundreds of thousands of dollars studying gas drilling's impact -- "money they don't have," she says. We're running low on time now, and after a show of hands, there are about 10 more people waiting to speak against XTO's proposal -- commissioners give each side another 15 minutes.

Molly Rooke is back again today, requesting the commission hold its decision until Dallas finishes updating is gas drilling ordinance, and as she wraps up her time... a Hollywood moment in here, as she asks anyone in the audience who's opposed to gas drilling to stand. Nearly the whole room, around three dozen people, are on their feet, leaving a few suits up front -- and those of us doing the liveblogging, of course -- in our seats. Time runs out for the opposition after a few more speakers, and Dueease takes the podium with around 20 minutes to make XTO's case before the commissioners talk amongst themselves.
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