Butting Heads and Changing Minds Over Drilling in Dallas as Task Force Wraps It Up

Categories: The Environment

PXP 1396 Murphy.jpg
Too close for comfort?
City ordinances governing drilling are based on the perspectives, experiences and whims of the group gathered at the table. It's the nature of creating rules governing a contentious issue with contradictory information and competing interests coming from both sides -- the drilling industry and anti-drilling activists. With that come differing opinions and changing minds of decision-makers, made more acute this week as the Dallas gas drilling task force is scheduled to conclude its deliberations.

To that end, task force member John McCall has dispatched another missive to the group explaining that he doesn't see a basis for having set-back distances more than 600 feet from drill sites to protected uses, such as homes and parks. "Based on multiple studies we have reviewed," he wrote, "600' is a distance that air quality becomes undetectable from a source."

At the end of January, he told Unfair Park he planned on revisiting the issue of set-backs, but said that he intended that the 1,000-foot setback distance, which he voted in favor of, protect only homes, not a list of other uses, including parks, which eliminate many more potential drill sites in Dallas.

In a list of items to revisit, task force member Terry Welch offered an opposite concern: that the set-back distances the task force originally voted on several weeks ago should be more inclusive.

Currently, the task force's recommendations state that a drill site must be 1,000 feet from a protected use with the option of lowering that distance to 750 feet with a council super-majority vote. Additionally, a drill site must be at least 300 feet from any structure with a certificate of occupancy, which ranges from an office building to a radio tower.

Welch says this may not be good enough. "One of the letters we recently received from several groups of concerned citizens equated this 1,000 foot/300 foot distinction as a 'separate but unequal' strategy. I agree. There are many weeks when I am at my office more than at home, and it seems that my health concerns would be the same," he wrote in his list of items to revisit this afternoon.

Citizen activists have been entering the debate with press releases, blogs and e-mails; they released a map of the city's leases last week, plotting possibly drilling locations included within the city's $30 million agreements with Trinity East and XTO.

This week, Zac Trahan of Program Director at Texas Campaign for the Environment wrote a response to McCall's letter. "Just because Mr. McCall hasn't been convinced that scientific evidence shows health risks beyond this 600 foot distance doesn't mean those health risks don't exist," he wrote. "In fact, health studies have proven difficult and inconclusive thus far, and that should lead the task force to use caution and recommend larger setbacks. Better safe than sorry!"

In the summer, when the council-appointed gas drilling task force began its charge of recommending ordinance revisions to council, there wasn't absolute irrefutable evidence of when a drill site's proximity to a home or school becomes a health hazard. Contradictory studies, stories of igniting faucets, health horror stories and rags-to-riches municipal and personal successes play against each other, forming a landscape that is as complex today, on the day of the last scheduled drilling task force meeting, as it was 20 meetings prior.

After deliberating on topics task force members requested they revisit, the task force will wrap up its recommendations and send them to city council, at which point the curtain rises on the next act of the drilling in Dallas saga.

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12 comments
BS
BS

What happened to the "citizen" rep?    Wasn't he the one that asked and got the setback vote for 1000'?  And then during the "revisit" ordered by Chairperson Finkelman, McCall flipped, saying residents only need 600' setback?  What tha'.

Oak Cliff Townie
Oak Cliff Townie

 Is this setback going to be a distance from where the actual hole...Or holes are going to be ?

These are going to be some very small drill sites .The drilling equipment will take up a lot of space not to mention the trucks and storage space .

That will be a real pain for the folks operating it especially in an urban area.

claytonauger
claytonauger

They've already voted to allow Drilling in Dallas Parks, thanks to Joan Walne, President of the Parks Board.They're now slashing setbacks. All this because industry decided to challenge existing recommendations at the very last meeting of this body, without due diligence and with little forethought of the consequences. Amazing. The Council should have another Task Force investigate this one. 

Darrd2010
Darrd2010

When he says that the task force has studied multiple reports, that would be the flawed Fort Worth Study and................... Sadly, there is a lack of in depth studies out there because of the gas industry influence. So Dallas, like most communities 'fly blind' on making good rules.But for John to recommend a reduction in distance is dangerous, flawed, and exhibits a lack of understanding of unknown short and long term effects of shale gas drilling next door to humans.

I don't know where he got his data that the emissions are undetectable at 600 feet but I would be interested in that data. As Welch correctly stated, concerns for anyone's health should be a 24/7 process whether you are at work or home or in a park.

Speaking of parks, Dallas residents should really be concerned that Dallas Park Board President Joan Walne has publicly stated that she sees nothing wrong with drilling in city parks or flood plains. That is a shocker but one of many, the latest with the opening of the new bridge this weekend. Sad how that new bridge dumps you right into the West Dallas neighborhoods that the City of Dallas leased away to XTO.

I guess you could say, 'Bye Bye Bajada on that topic.

Wes Scott
Wes Scott

John McCall lives in Highland Park where no drilling rigs will ever be seen except in photos on a wall. He owns industrial warehouse space along the banks of Mountain Creek Lake where some of the leased acreage is located, so he has a vested interest in allowing drilling as close as necessary to maximize his own profits.

Citizens and environmentalists were not represented and not served by the task force. Ms. Blazer was either absent or very late attending every meeting, and showed no interest in demanding and getting protections for citizens. Mr. Alvarez was so weak as to be a non-factor throughout the process, and he occasionally had to miss meetings or depart early because he lives in Austin and apparently had more pressing matters to attend to back home, whch makes you wonder why he even applied to be on the task force in the first place. It makes you wonder if the Environmental Defense Fund for which he works is one of those organizations that took money from the natural gas industry and skewed their stance against urban drilling based upon a monetary value.

When they start drilling wells in Highland Park 300 feet from houses then I will begin to accept that distance as being safe. Until then, even 1,000 feet is far too close.

Darrd2010
Darrd2010

 Sympathy for the industry is the last thing that is needed here. What about residents and the environment?

claytonauger
claytonauger

Unclear because of all the mucking up by industry today. Sometimes from property line to property line, other times from structure to well bore. It was uniformly prop line to prop line before today. But Lois Finkelman is letting industry ride roughshod over a wholesale re-writing of the recommendations already approved. It's clear someone - the Mayor? - has given her instructions for how this is supposed to go. 

Wes Scott
Wes Scott

Our gas drilling task force was a farce and a sham from day one. Picked to represent "citizens and environmentalists" were three completely incompetent people who should have never even been there in the first place, and whose lack of participation, lack of aggressive defense of important considerations and ineffectual performance led to a task force that was dominated by industry stooges who demanded and got most of the concessions they wanted.

The City Council should start this whole process over. Shale gas has been there for millions of years and it is not going anywhere. The current rate is so low (about $2.40-2.50 per mcf) that gas companaies are shutting in wells and not producing, which means they are not paying royalties, so there is no need to rush into allowing drilling in our city. We need an objective task force that includes NO industry reps, but which calls on industry reps to provide testimony and information as background rather than playing an active role in writing the rules by which they have to play.

Joan Walne should immediately be relieved of her position on the Parks Board. Lois Finkleman should never again be allowed near any activity that is supposed to protect citizens. And, we need a REAL task force that was not created and structured by Ron Natinsky and David Neumann, neither of whom were Council members at the time the task force began it works. This task force was a sorry joke on the citizens of Dallas by a City Council that only pretended to have concerns for citizens health and property values. These are our elected leaders, and we need to hold them accountable.

Marc
Marc

The Fort Worth air study stipulated that it was done only on a very limited numer of well sites, on a very limited number of days and hours, that it was not done during the summer months when solar effects on greenhouse gases would have been highest, and that it was not intended to be a definitive study of Fort Worth air quality as relates to natural gas exploration. It suggested that much more comprehensive studies would need to be done before a general analysis could be reached as to how much natural gas exploration and production is affecting air quality and human health.

People like John McCall read the parts of the Fort Worth air study that seemed to support their desired perspective and intentionally overlooked those parts that did not support their agenda. They knew that the EPA was already doing a much broader study of environmental threats caused by frac'ing, and the City Council even stated that they were not going to spend the money doing a study of our own since the EPA was already doing that, and that the task force and council could look to the EPA study for guidance on health and safety issues.

Then, the City Council set up the task force by hand picking members and gave a preference to those who supported the pro-drilling agenda so as to assure the outcome industry preferred. They budgeted not one penny for the Task Force operation and gave it 90 days in which to gather information, interview the public and expert witnesses, analyze all they learned and then write recommendations on how to modify our existing and inadequate gas drilling ordinance. The Task Force was a dog and pony show lead by Dallas' own version of Brownie, Bush's choice to lead FEMA who screwed up so badly after Hurricane Katrina, and Lois Finkleman tried her very best to outdo Brownie in screwing up the recommendations of the Task Force rather than acting to protect Dallas citizens. It appears that she succeeded by a mile!

The EPA report will be released early next year, yet our Task Force has already finished its work without even a hint of what might be in the EPA report, and our City Council is about to begin their work re-writing the drilling ordinance, also without the benefit of the EPA report which we were supposedly waiting on so that we did not need to spend our own money to determine how to safely proceed.

Our City Council does NOT represent the best interest of the citizens. Instead, it represents the best interst of the Big Business community even if it harms residents and visitors in the process. Only a fool believes we are represented by people who care about our health, safety, property values or quality of life. Our leaders are owned by Big Business and they say what they think we want to hear while doing the exact opposite, then they get all huffy when we call them out for their actions.

John McCall did exactly what he was supposed to do, as did the other members of the Task Force, and what they were supposed to do was make it easy for drillers to rape our land, take our property through eminent domain, destroy our quality of life, sell our parklands to drillers ruining our abililty to use our parks for recreation and cost us more tax dollars repairing the damage they do to infrastructure so the city can gamble on getting rich off gas drilling in an area where T. Boone Pickens once stated, "Nobody will ever make any money drilling for oil and gas in Dallas."

RTGolden
RTGolden

"...and exhibits a lack of understanding of unknown short and long term effects of shale gas drilling next door to humans."

I'm not a fracking expert, so I'm not weighing in on the argument.  In the statement above, however,   unknown short and long term effects of anything, I would think, would incorporate a degree of lack of understanding.  Simply by the fact that they are unknown.

Oak Cliff Townie
Oak Cliff Townie

How about the safety issues ? Drilling rigs are a dangerous proposition at best .Working in a confined space  as in Not having working room for Trucks and equipment  is just as dangerous for Those OUT SIDE the Drilling area as it is inside.

Darrd2010
Darrd2010

 Are you kidding? It's Mayor Suhm who's riding herd on this. It's always been Mary's way or the highway. She's the one that got us into this mess in the first place back in 2008 when she pushed it through consent agenda and then told the council that we had to have the money without any research or extended conversation.

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