Dallas's Gas Drilling Task Force Navigates, Sort Of, the Labyrinth of Fracking Regulations

Categories: The Environment

726 task force.jpg
Photo by Leslie Minora
Task force chair Lois Finkelman and members Terry Welch and Cherelle Blazer mull over fracking regulations at yesterday's meeting.
The city's gas drilling task force slurped down a hearty helping of alphabet soup last night, with visits from representatives of the EPA (Environmental Protection Agency), the TCEQ (Texas Commission on Environmental Quality) and the RRC (the Railroad Commission of Texas), all of whom provided a breakdown of the regulatory environment surrounding gas drilling that was nearly as confusing as informational.

Here's a taste of what the task force heard from agency representatives: The RRC handles waste issues, unless they somehow involve transportation, at which point the TCEQ steps in. For drinking water contamination, private wells fall under RRC jurisdiction, while the TCEQ handles public water. Reclaimed fracking water is a shared responsibility. And the list goes on ... makes perfect sense, right? It's no wonder task force chair Lois Finkelman joked after the meeting that she'd like to "scrap [all of the regulations] and start over" with a more concise system.

"I think the most important thing about today is the overlapping responsibilities of the governing agencies," Finkelman told Unfair Park. Now, it's the task force's job to wade through this information and determine where municipal regulation can potentially fill in the gaps and add levels of protection.

The task force also was scheduled to also hear from city of Dallas officials, but they ran out of time and will move that item to another meeting.

The EPA has "very little regulatory authority" over fracking operations, according to a representative of that agency, while the state agencies, the TCEQ and RRC, have much tighter regulations. In general, there is "much more regulatory authority over fewer items," the EPA representative said. For example, guidelines for compressor stations are much tighter than on wells (of which there are more than 400,000 in Texas), even though there are exponentially more wells with "literally thousands of connections [valves, etc.] on a site."

The TCEQ representative said the agency studies benzene levels most closely because if that is kept within established levels, other volatile organic compounds, or VOCs, will follow suit. But task force member Cherelle Blazer of environmental organization You Can't Live in the Woods took issue with his presumption. "That is the main carcinogen, that is not the main VOC," she said. "I would like to speak with you more about that."

Drilling activist Raymond Crawford called benzene the "star player in the world of contaminants," and also took issue with the TCEQ's stance. "If you don't look for something you're not going to see it," he told Unfair Park after the meeting. He worries that the TCEQ operates "with blinders on."

With a regulatory environment that is multifaceted, dense and prone to public scrutiny, the task force has a lot to consider as it gathers information needed to rewrite the city's gas drilling ordinance. Discussing regulation in general, task force member John McCall told Unfair Park after the meeting, "It's clear as mud at this point." McCall was especially surprised to learn that drilling companies are almost completely unregulated when it comes to where they're drawing the millions of gallons of fresh water used for fracking.

The next task force meeting is a public hearing on August 2 at 7 p.m. on level L1 of City Hall. Perhaps you could make it if you weren't invited to Mayor Mike's barbecue.

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Gerrythorp
Gerrythorp

We all love cheap electricity.  My question is, are we trading cheap electricity for soon to be expensive water?  We are dumping millions of gallons of water, laced with a cocktail of chemicals,  below the water table that can never be recovered.  The aquifers are beling depleted and lake levels are already low because of the drought.

LouisMcBee
LouisMcBee

The fact that this committee was "surpirsed" by any of this "news" is disturbing in itself.  Not exactly new information here.  I sincerely hope the committee gets an earfull of information about the authority of a "Home Rule" municipality and the power they have to govern any of this through zoning ordinances.  A home rule municipality does not look to the legislature for grants of authority that is already granted by the constitution....but only limitations to that authority, and when that limitation exists it must be in very clear and understandable language in the constitution, general laws or the city charter.  Also, this home rule authority exists within a municipal extraterritorial jurisdiction as well.

Marc
Marc

Louis, it does not matter whether or not the task force knows about home rule because they have no authority to make any decisions. Their purpose is to hear concerns, gather facts and recommend how to re-write the Dallas gas drilling ordinance to best protect our city and its citizens. Only the Dallas City Council makes decisions and takes actions on the recommendations of the task force and on home rule issues.

You can rest assured that the City Council, the City Attorney's Office and the Office of Sustainable Development ALL understand the home rule issue, and it has already been clearly enunciated to the task force that we are not about to change the SUP and zoning processes to allow ANY heavy industrial activity in residential, commercial or light industrial areas.

Those who need to know about this important matter do know, and they are already declaring their defense of a system that has served our city well for many decades much to the chagrin, I am sure, of the gas drilling industry and its stooges.

LouisMcBee
LouisMcBee

Of course it's important that they know and understand the authority granted a home rule municipality by the Texas Constitution.  The very fact that part of their purpose is to "recommend" anything would require more than a basic knowledge of the home rule power and how the Texas Attorney General has ruled on such matters in the past.

Although it doesn't affect me unless I decide to move back to Dallas, I truly hope you are correct and "those who need to know about this important matter do know."  In Fort Worth we were TOLD that they knew about all of this detail....only to find out in the end that they in fact did not.  Thereby allowing our new gas drilling ordinance to be written in such a way that much was left to city staff administrative interpreation, causing citizens to be at a disadvantage in the entire process.

Kim Triolo Feil
Kim Triolo Feil

I like how their road trip to Arlington to visit wells in different stages of production came up short on "just missing" the fracking site.  I saw it...everyone saw it that drives on I20 in the mornings into Ft Worth at Hwy 287 and I 20.  They even saw the other one on the other side of the interstate in the last two weeks.  Double plumes, thick, black omnimous...full of particulate matter wafting into neighborhoods to fall out on people, animals, our water supply and any crops that have a chance to grow in this drought we're having while the drillers have little to no restrictions on OUR WATER.  Sing with me now.."Old school fossil fuels- makes a few rich and the rest of us fools"! 

Sarina
Sarina

It's encouraging when task force members express genuine "surprise" when finding out that something about all of this is unregulated.  Well, a LOT about all of it is unregulated. Lots of surprises when jumping into the mess. We're all eventual victims of this free-for-all.

JRinDallas
JRinDallas

Watching out for benzene is cool and all but TCEQ basically says that unless you're choking to death or maybe getting cancer we don't much care what is emitted. TCEQ does not have a level for which the main components of what comes out of the ground in the Barnett is unsafe (methane, ethane). So the next time we express our satisfaction with the cheap price of energy...we can thank greenhouse gases, ground-level ozone and all the associate health risks that come along with those (sore throats, coughing, chest pains, and shortness of breath) and all the further heightened risks for vulnerable populations that come with that (increased risk of stroke, asthma and bronchitis).

GusMitchem
GusMitchem

Shhh...... I love cheap electricity have you noticed its fucking hot but hey lets not connect the dots lets just be scared and go after someone

LouisMcBee
LouisMcBee

"cheap electricity?"  Exactly when did our electrical bills come down after having increased 4 times because natural gas was $13.00 per 1000 ft?

Sarina
Sarina

Yes. We all use electricity. We all use energy. But that doesn't justify a method for getting the shale gas that is flawed and destructive.  This is not about being "scared." It's about being damn smart.

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