All Sides Are Pissed at City Council as Fracking Debate Comes to a Head

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Over Thanksgiving weekend, the Morning News' Randy Lee Loftis posed a question we'd been wondering about ourselves: Just what the hell happened to that fracking ordinance the City Council was supposed to pass, the one that would finally and completely resolve all those unanswered questions about gas drilling within the city of Dallas?

It's been nearly four months since the council-appointed gas drilling task force delivered its recommendations and more than a year and a half since its members first started meeting. And the $34 million in leases of city land to Trinity East Energy and Exxon subsidiary XTO, which sparked the drilling debate in the first place, were signed way back in 2008.

That's more than enough time to write an ordinance, even one as complex and contentious as the gas drilling one is bound to be. But since August 1, there hasn't been a peep from City Hall. There still isn't a proposed ordinance, nor any official hint of when one might arrive.

The cloud of silence is pissing off just about everyone with skin in the fracking game. Environmental groups sent out a news release earlier today reiterating their opposition to drilling of any sort in the Trinity River floodplain. Downwinders at Risk's Jim Schermbeck called it "the largest retreat of leadership that I can ever remember on such an important public health and environmental issue," and the Texas Campaign for the Environment's Zac Trahan referring to it as a "complete and utter dereliction of duty."

Drilling companies are no happier. Steve Fort, a manager of Trinity East, said the company has been waiting for the city's decision on its application for a specific use permit, which has been on hold for 18 months. "We're at the city's mercy," he said. XTO spokesman Jeffrey Neu expressed similar sentiments to Loftis, indicating that the company's patience is wearing thin. A third player, Chief Oil & Gas, allowed its leases on private land to expire when it became clear the city was stalling.

City Hall, of course, hasn't been sitting around doing nothing about fracking, judging by several closed-door legal briefing they've had and the letter sent by the city attorney's office two weeks ago asking drilling companies to tell the city if they still plan to drill. That prompted XTO to file for a handful SUPs that would allow them to drill their lease at Hensley Field near Grand Prairie. And those applications have been put on the fast track, with Plan Commission hearings scheduled for December and consideration before the full council in January.

Why the sudden rush? For one, XTO's lease will expire unless the company begins drilling and producing royalties for the city by October 13, 2013. The city could grant an extension to avoid the lawsuit that would inevitably result if XTO were not allowed to drill, or it could go ahead and grant the permits. Natural gas prices are at rock bottom and there is little incentive to launch a multimillion dollar drilling operation right now. It seems that we'll know very soon how things will play out.


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4 comments
schermbeck
schermbeck

Yeah, the comments from the citizen groups were directed at the backasswards move of going forward with specific permit requests before your re-write of a new ordinance is finished. Although you do have a point, it's been a long time.

P1Gunter
P1Gunter

Well according to the Per[$]t "science" museum, with a donation from the Hunt family, fracking is totally safe.

darrd
darrd

Ever since the 'honorable' (that's Schutze's term)City Manager crafted this deal back in February of 2008, she has worked hard to protect it from being altered. Her cozy relationship with the industry has continued to plague the process of allowing a new gas ordinance from being written. No thanks to the helpless Mayor Mike who despite his bluster, and promises of transparency, has had no effect on the process. While the gas drilling task force managed to craft something of substance despite it's compromised insider membership, the document has sat on Asst. City Attorney Tammy Palomino's desk with Suhm's full weight on top of it. It's not going anywhere, anytime soon. The City Manager is in control of this deal, while the Mayor attends ribbon cuttings. Total failure, and lies to Dallas residents about to approach 5 years. When is enough, enough?

You thought the Museum Tower/Nasher deal was a hot mess? You haven't seen a hot mess yet.

zactrahan
zactrahan

Thanks for the update, but this isn't 100% accurate. First of all, the response came from neighborhood and environmental groups, not just the latter. Second, what we consider a "complete and utter dereliction of duty" is the idea that drilling should be allowed to move forward without a new ordinance. That should clearly be a non-starter. Third, Trinity East is only "at the city's mercy" in the sense that they applied to drill in floodplain areas, something that is not allowed under the current ordinance. The gas company wants the city to change its ordinance in order for them to drill on park lands along the Trinity River. Perhaps they expected the city to do that two years ago, but then, there are many people who don't agree with that plan.Zac Trahan

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