City's Gas Drilling Task Force Makes Its Official Bow With Vow to Protect Citizens of Dallas

Categories: The Environment
gas drilling task force.jpg
Photos by Leslie Minora
Lois Finkelman and task force member David Sterling at today's introductory meeting
Today's first meeting of the city's gas drilling task force meeting played out like the pilot episode of a new TV series: It laid out the basic plot line without giving away too much. Which is to say it opened with an introduction of the nine task force members, as approved by city council two weeks ago, then yet another intro by Lois Finkelman, former city council member and chair of the task force.

Finkelman outlined the charge of the task force: to make recommendations to city council regarding zoning, drilling permitting, air quality issues, water contamination issues and any other issues that arise from now until the end of October, when it's scheduled to finish its duty. Finkelman compared the length of their mission to wedding planning: "It's going to take as much time as you allow it," she said. With that, the end of October is a reasonable goal, though not set in stone.

"Dallas is a little bit late to the whole shale drilling experience, and that's the good news," Finkelman said. Meaning: Dallas has the advantage of seeing what impact fracking has had on surrounding areas, and still has time to put in place an ordinance that'll keep Dallas from becoming another Gasland.

"Everything we do will be open," Finkleman said of the meetings that will take place on Tuesdays from 2 to 4:30 p.m. Two meetings are scheduled for public comment, the first of which will be at City Hall on August 2

The bulk of today's meeting consisted of that presentation by Rick Trice, the assistant director of planning and development for Fort Worth, which has seen first-hand the pros and cons of fracking. At the outset, Trice called "noise" his "No. 1 concern," showed the task force through a slide show of drilling site photos while detailing the process, the pitfalls and potential areas of concern -- including valve leaks, produced water disposal, compression station noise and air pollution.

Task force members had several questions for Trice, most of them logistical: where the fracking water comes from (city water distribution, fracking ponds, lakes), where it goes (It's trucked to places as far away as Cleveland), and why drilling sites in Fort Worth use flaring to burn off gas waste (it can be a "clean-burning" option).

Finkelman said the task force will "really look at what the actual numbers of things are" as the process continues, and answer the questions of how many drilling sites, trucks and compressors would likely enter the city, and how much water and other materials would be used in a given amount of time.

Task force member Cherelle Blazer of You Can't Live in the Woods asked Trice if he believed Fort Worth had the "leading code" on gas drilling. Yes, Trice said: With the amount of research and consultation that went into the process, he believes Fort Worth does have a leading ordinance.

Later, Blazer told Unfair Park she felt otherwise. "It's out of date," she said. "I'd like to see us use more progressive models," she added, citing those of Flower Mound, Southlake and Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport. "We do not want a well drilled into every nook and cranny," she said, adding that she wished they could have launched into a more substantial discussion instead of ending the meeting almost an hour ahead of schedule.

"I think we could have drilled him a bit more," she said of the task force's questions for Trice.

During the course of the discussion, Finkelman said the group would look at other area ordinances as the task force meetings progress. Today, she said, they "got their feet wet."

Theresa O'Donnell, director of Sustainable Development and Construction, gave the run-down of what it would take for a gas drilling site to be approved. The process goes like this: Gas company (XTO or Trinity East, in Dallas's case) requests city approval, city sets conditions (setbacks, spacing, zoning requirements, etc.) needed for a specific use permit; and once (or if) it's granted, a permitting process begins that deals with more specifics, such as storage, parking, signage, tanks, noise, odor and so forth. If a permit is issued, an ongoing inspection process would commence.

Many familiar faces were in the crowd today, among them Raymond Crawford, who told Unfair Park that the meeting was "pretty much what I expected." He's optimistic ... to a point: "I have faith in Lois Finkelman ... and faith in the structure."

Finkelman told us she felt today was a "good beginning" with much more ground to be covered in future meetings. Asked whether those extended leases worth millions of already spent dollars and the threat of lawsuits hanging over the city's head would impact the task force's future discussions, Finkelman said that these concerns run parallel to the task force's mission.

"It doesn't impact our process," she said. "My goal is to put together a set of recommendations that will provide the greatest amount of protection for the citizens of Dallas."
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Marc
Marc

"Everything we do will be open," Finkleman said of the meetings that will take place on Tuesdays from 2 to 4:30 p.m.

First, those meetings may as well be backroom meetings because the general public cannot hear what is being said. The audio system in the room is far too inadequate to provide decent coverage, the microphone level is far too low and speakers don't have a clue about speaking into microphones so that their comments can be heard by anybody except those on the panel who are sitting in close proximity. I brought this matter to the attention of Lois Finkleman after the meeting and expressed concern that a great disservice is being done to the citizens when we cannot hear what is being said about a matter that will greatly impact lives, health, safety and property values. Ms. Finkleman told me that she would address those concerns and try to make sure that the audience can hear the discussions in future meetings.

Second, the City Council set up an ad hoc committee to select the gas drilling task force. I do not believe objectivity was the driving force, but we were given a task force chaired by Ms. Finkleman. Councilman Sheffie Kadane was on the selection committee, and was NOT a candidate for the task force. Yet, yesterday, he showed up, took a seat with the panel and participated in the discussion trying to sway the conversation in favor of allowing drilling. That is patently prejudicial and unfair to the process, and it should not be allowed.

Ms. Finkleman told me that any elected city official has the right to participate in the task force meetings, and that she advised Scott Griggs of that fact, yet Scott says he never heard that he was even allowed to be in the room, much less participate. Sandy Greyson was also not told that she could be there or participate. So, exactly who WAS told that they could participate even though they were not selected as task force members?

Third, unlike Raymond Crawford, I am not highly optimistic that this task force is going to do a "fair and balanced" job of protecting Dallas citizens. It is stacked with too many attorneys including Terry Welch, the Town Attorney for Flower Mound, who proceeded to suggest that we do away with zoning ordinances and SUPs in favor of a process that allows beaureacrats to conduct backroom meetings to decide matters relating to allowing drilling activities. Hopefully, that attitude will be laid to rest rather quickly. Our zoning ordinances and SUP process are precisely why Dallas is not the mess we see in Houston and other places (like Flower Mound) that have allowed heavy industrial activities in the middle of residential neighborhoods.

Fourth, our illustrous City Council saw fit to allocate only 16 hours in 8 meetings to gather research, study it, interview experts, take public comment, visit drilling sites and compressor stations to get a firsthand look at the process and everything else necessary to re-write our gas drilling ordinance, and then put together recommendations for the City Council to consider when doing the re-write. That is bad enough. Then, the very first meeting ended about 45 minutes ahead of schedule rather than utilize the available time to delve deeply into these matters, including a more extensive interview of Rick Trice from Fort Worth's planning and development department.

This is a dog and pony show! It appears that the purpose of this task force is merely to give the pretense of doing something while trying to find a way to allow it to happen. People keep coming back to the fact that we took $33.8 million dollars from XTO and Trinity East and spent the money, and that we will be sued if we do not allow then to drill. That is B.S.! The money we took was for land leases. We honored that agreement, and then gave them each a FREE 30-month extension.

The leases came with the stipulation that zoning changes WOULD BE REQUIRED, and that the SUP process MUST be followed before any drilling permits would be approved and issued. There was NEVER a quid pro quo of drilling permits in return for the landlease money. Any attempt to paint it as such is just crap from people who either do not know the facts, or else have a vested interest in promoting drilling. ANY decent attorney with an understanding of contract law could look at those lease agreements and determine that the city has no liability or exposure from denying drilling permits because that was NEVER a part of the landlease agreements, and it would have been illegal to have made it so! We have a legal process of going through the SUP process to request a zoning change for ANY activity that is contrary to the zoned uses of property within our city, whether it is city-owned property or private property.

This task force got off to a bad start by (1) not having an audio system that allowed the citizens in the audience to clearly hear the discussions, (2) allowing a non-member of the task force to sit on the panel and participate and (3) ending the already too brief process 45 minutes before the scheduled time of adjournment, thus wasting precious little time to do the job it is tasked to do. Anybody who thinks citizens who truly are concerned are not going to be watching and acting to keep this train on the track have been smoking something illegal.

Mountain Creek
Mountain Creek

Too bad the area being 'drilled' is not fairly represented on this committee.  Thanks to Councilman Griggs for trying.  Thanks to the rest of the Council for playing politics as usual.  Thanks to Nuemann for nothing.

Marc
Marc

It was not by accident that the Mountain Creek area was denied a citizen representative on the task force. I mean, includng somebody who actually lives there would have injected a measure of objectivity into the process, and they could not allow THAT to happen!

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