Mayor Rawlings Says New Drilling Rules Are At Least Six Months Away. In the Meantime, Trinity East May Drill Under the Old Ones.

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Trinity East's holdings. Click here to embiggen.

Yesterday afternoon, we were summoned down to City Hall via a text message from Paula Blackmon, Mayor Mike Rawlings' chief of staff. After several long months of silence, it appeared that there was finally going to be some semi-official word on the new regulations for gas drilling within Dallas city limits. (To recap, quickly: the drilling task force wrapped up their work months ago and submitted their recommendations to the City Council, whose lengthy and deafening silence has really pissed everybody off, industry types and environmentalists alike.)

According to Rawlings, it appears that the City Council is still at least six months away from finalizing and voting on any new regulations. In the meantime, Trinity East, the only company with its hat still fully in the ring, will go before the City Council in January. If their application is approved, they'll be allowed to drill under the old drilling regulations (the ones environmentalist types have argued are far too lax).

The latest non-action on drilling came last week, when one of the two energy companies involved, XTO, told the City Plan Commission to delay consideration of their specific use permit application. XTO would have had to get an SUP approved in order to drill, something that was expected to happen at the commission's next meeting on December 20. A spokesperson for the company wouldn't specify whether the delay was meant to be temporary or permanent.

Rawlings was careful to emphasize yesterday that he was speaking "as mayor, and not for the City of Dallas. I'm one of 15 votes on things. Until we take a vote and finalize, there's no action taking place." Last Wednesday, he said, the council was briefed in executive session about "some news," by which he meant XTO pulling their SUP application.

"We've been trying to do two things," Rawlings said. "One, make sure that the safety, welfare and quality of life of Dallas citizens are met. And, at the same time, that we are stewards of the taxpayers' budgets. So we do not spend money in lawsuits or being sued by contracts that have been instituted by the city in the past."

Rawlings was referring, of course, to the $33.7 million that XTO and Trinity East paid back in 2007 to purchase leases on city land. (Environmentalist groups like Texas Campaign for the Environment and Dallas Residents at Risk have long maintained that having taken the money doesn't obligate the city to allow drilling.)

Trinity East, then, will go before the Plan Commission on Thursday. If their SUP is approved, their application will go to a final vote before the City Council on January 23. If that passes, Rawlings said, they're free to drill.

In the meantime, XTO doesn't want to apply for an SUP quite yet, but has still requested that their lease be extended on the land they've purchased near Hensley Field. That lease is due to expire in August of 2013. Rawlings said the company's request for an extension will be denied.

After that, any new drilling applications, Rawlings said, will be subject to the new regulations, which he said are "at least six months away."

Back up a minute. Isn't Trinity East the company that wants to drill
pretty much exclusively in the floodplains along the Trinity River? And isn't that currently not allowed, because flooding or even just regular old rain could send noxious chemicals washing into the already-pristine Trinity? Yep. According to the Dallas Development Code, the company will have to be granted a variance in order to drill there.

But, see, Trinity East thinks that they should totally allowed to drill in the floodplain, as manager and shareholder Steve Fort made clear to Leslie Minora back in May. Not because there are any rules actually saying that they can do that by right, understand, but because, as he put it, someone at City Hall told them they could back in 2007.

"[W]hen we took the lease, we had that discussion with the city," Fort told Minora. "It was made very clear that adding that as a permitted use would not be an issue. In fact, as late as a year ago, when we were dealing with the staff, they were prepared to put that forward to the City Council and add that as a permitted use."

Fort declined to say who those talks had been with, or whether the agreement had been verbal or in writing, adding, "There was some documentation that I can't discuss." Got it.

So, does Mike Rawlings think Trinity East is allowed to drill in a floodplain?

"They will," he replied. "That deal was cut. If they drill. That's a business decision for them," he said.

And it's a business decision that will be made while the price of natural gas is extremely, unprofitably low.

"You gotta debate, what are the chances of, if we don't approve it, that we will get sued and lose, on one hand," Rawlings said. "And if we do approve it, will it be drilled, and will something harmful happen? The odds of those two things."

As a candidate, of course, Rawlings and his opponent David Kunkle both said they'd push for a moratorium on drilling within city limits. Is it fair to say his position on this issue has evolved, we asked?

"I don't remember saying that," Rawlings replied. "I'm shy about looking in the past and judging people for what they've done. I just try to stay in the present. I will tell you this, that this issue going forward is a very complicated one."

In the future, he said it will be "very expensive" for energy companies to buy drilling rights in Dallas. "Never say never, but I'm not in the camp of letting a lot of drilling. I don't think that's the role that Dallas needs to play."

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17 comments
TheCredibleHulk
TheCredibleHulk topcommenter

I wonder if Rawlings remembers who donated to his campaign fund?

Tolldya
Tolldya

Maybe they should listen to city staff sometimes instead of some official making offhand promises they can't keep.  The citizens shouldn't have to pay for their stupidity.

scottie1620
scottie1620

Mayor Rawlings is a LIAR! Standing at the front of the Texas Theater auditorium on June 29, 2011, the mayor stated, " I will never vote to put any neighborhoods at risk because of money." In attendance were Council Members Scott Griggs, Delia Jasso, Angela Hunt, Sandy Greyson, Linda Koop and others, as well as a large number of citizens.

If Mayor Rawlings has trouble remembering that promise, then we have a videotape that he can review to refresh his memory. Everything he has done on this issue has been a lie predicated upon his desire to say "Yes" to gas drilling in residential neighborhoods, in public parks, in the Trinity River floodplain and other places where a heavy industrial process has no place.

The current gas drilling ordinance prohibits drilling in the Trinity River floodplain, as well as in public parks. That prohibition MUST be enforced in denying the Trinity East SUPs for the L.B. Houston Sports Complex at Luna Road and Royal Lane in Northwest Dallas. It does not matter what City Manager Mary Suhm told Steve Fort of Trinity East. The existing ordinance, under which Trinity East wells would be drilled, takes precedent over anything Mary Suhm told those from whom she took money for drilling leases.

Steve Fort and Trinity East had an obligation to know the law before they entered into a contract. Steve Fort and Trinity East were derelict in not being aware of the prohibitions against drilling in floodplains and parks. The fact that they believed the false "promise" made by Mary Suhm not withstanding, the existing ordinance prohibits drilling at L.B. Houston because (1) it is a public park and (2) it sits in the Trinity River floodplain.

Everything else is merely white noise.

Gangy
Gangy

The mayor should add to his calculation the probability that Dallas residents will sue the City for squandering their public resources (water) and endangering us.  I think our damages would add up to way more than the gas companies' "damages".  Sincerity is not in Rawlings' repertoire. 

sbenavides888
sbenavides888

Why do the environmental groups continue to play the game the City wants them too? Your faith in the system, which has shown consistently that it does not work in the favor of the environment or the people, is discouraging.  Possibly the mere facade of resistance to drilling in Dallas is not enough.  The taskforce made suggestions, which are non-binding, and will most likely be watered down to the point of non-existence in the amended ordinance.  Not only should there be no drilling in a floodplain, but there should be no drilling within Dallas city limits at all.  An ordinance was drafted by environmental groups, which outlines best case regulations that will protect our communities.  Rather than pushing forward with a referendum initiative that would place this ordinance on the ballot for all registered voters to decide, they have rolled over and are not waiting the "City's" decision.  I challenge these groups to stop taking what will be given to them, and to present the issue to the people in the form of a special election on a gas drilling. Groups in other cities, have done this and won.  Why can't we do this in Dallas?  I have all the information on the referendum process, and there is still time to get the signatures required.  Who is willing to stand up to big business and begin doing some actual grassroots organizing?   

marianagriggs
marianagriggs

If a deal was cut to make the allowance to drill in the floodplain then the citizens deserve to know who went around the proper process to do what they wanted. It is inappropriate for staff to cut deals, take money and not be held accountable for those decisions. Trinity East should follow the old ordinance that prohibits drilling in the floodplain. If there is documentation of a variance allowance that did not go through the proper SUP process, the people need to see those documents.

The Mayor might like to pretend that this issue is so complicated, but it isn't. This is an issue of transparency, who cut the deal, how and when? On another note, today he sounds scared of a lawsuit, but how much extra money that was not budgeted outright went to fighting the Flow Control case? Lots, so he should not pretend that it's so scary to go to bat for the people when money goes out the door left and right for golf course plans, tollroad drawings and other frivolous endeavors.

You guys got summoned to hear a pack of lies and you were used to put them out for the public to read. I want to see the documentation, anyone else?

schermbeck
schermbeck

This just doesn't pass the smell test.

dallasdrilling.wordpress.com
dallasdrilling.wordpress.com

The Mayor needs to rethink to what point he has evolved..... Letting a lot of drilling? Like a 'little bit pregnant'? That ordinance could have already been put into place, had Mary Suhm allowed it to happen. She won't let her kids(including the Mayor) proceed with a new ordinance until she has a a friendlier council AFTER the May elections. That's how Mary rolls.  

Roll tape:

http://dallasdrilling.wordpress.com/2011/10/12/dear-mayor-mike/

marianagriggs
marianagriggs

@scottie1620

Just to be clear, they are expecting to get a variance for this permit. The variance would allow the drilling within the floodplain for this particular permit. Please contact your city planning commissioner before Dec 20 and ask that this variance be denied.

director21
director21

@scottie1620 - I was present that night when Rawlings made that statement. He seemed to be sincere at the time, though politicians are known to say whatever suits their needs at the moment.

The bottom line is that the mayor has a vested interest in oil and gas as an investor, so it should surprise nobody that he is willing to sacrifice the health and safety of citizens to reap profits for himself and his friends in the oil and gas industry.

marianagriggs
marianagriggs

@sbenavides888

I like it, let me know where I can sign the petition. I'm in.

director21
director21

@sbenavides888 - Heretofore, the environmental groups have played the game by the rulebook. We have fought our battles according to established protocols and procedures. It may be time to try a different tack. If our elected leaders are going to just disregard ordinances and laws, then we need to call that to the attention of the general public. This last election should have taught them that people are awakening and paying attention, as well as removing from office those who work against the public interest.

It may also be time to find an environmental attorney who will undertake to file suits in state and federal court to compel compliance with established laws and ordinances. And, such violations should definitely become part of the discussion in future political campaigns.Dallas lost when the Dallas Citizens Council made sure that Rawlings beat out David Kunkle in the last mayoral race.

schermbeck
schermbeck

@sbenavides888 Written by someone who has no experience with this fight, with what it takes to win a fight like this, and is even now unwilling to follow their own advice. Such a referendum requires tens of thousands of signatures in a short amount of time - it's actually meant to squelch any such attempts. If you mange that feat, you get outspent by corporate supporters a million to one. Then you end up with a policy driven by campaign ads.  Inadequate as they may be, opponents have kept irresponsible drilling out of Dallas city limits for going on four years now despite the town being the HQ of Exxon-Mobil. Slowly, but surely, they've also change the terms of the fight so that such drilling is less likely now than at any time. You're always welcome to try to do better, but I have a feeling you won't.

director21
director21

@marianagriggs - Mariana, I am with YOU! I want to see the authorization for the waiver to allow drilling in floodplains and parks. If a waiver was illegally granted, then we need an FBI investigation into official corruption (Mary Suhm and Tom Leppert) followed by free room and board at one of those federal "country club" prisons.

sbenavides888
sbenavides888

@schermbeck  Your response is expected, and reveals how much ownership you desire over the issue.  If it is not something you thought of, or are in front of, it must be a bad idea.  For the record, I was born at a little place called Parkland Hospital.  You may have heard of it.  I also grew up in Dallas, and in surrounding suburbs.  So regardless of your "infinite wisdom", or all knowing political strategy to keep the big scary monsters out of the village, I have an opinion, and it matters.  For the record, are you from Dallas?More importantly, the tactics you have employed are drawing to a close.  There is no end game, because you're no longer invited to play the game.  Now it is in the hands of the City Council; or a series of lawsuits.  I give credit where credit is due.  As such, you and others were instrumental in postponing the inevitable, but the gig is up, and the decision is out of your hands, or any one else's who is not a registered voter in the City of Dallas. We know that Trinity East would like to drill in the floodplain due to a back room deal, that contradicts the current gas drilling ordinance.  If allowed to happen, it will set a precedent for future drilling companies.  The second piece of the puzzle is how the ordinance will be amended.  If you have  undoubted faith in our local officials to make the choice that is right for Dallas, i.e "No Gas Drilling in City Limits", then you live in a different reality than myself, and most other inhabitants of the city.  So back to the point, what is to be done?  If you can not rely on the city council to include the setbacks, and other precautions into the current ordinance, then we are left with no other option than to submit one of our own.  As for the "tens of thousands of signatures ; it's really only 20,000 signatures to place an initiate on the ballot.  Keep the theatrics at the school Christmas play where they belong.

Taking into account that there are 1.3m people within city limits, that a majority of those within voting age are registered, that several organizations are involved, some with the capacity to make this a reality, and of course with social media and the internet, your opinion beckons to a time long past.  We can get the signatures, we can put a best case ordinance on the ballot, and we can win that special election.  The people in those communities deserve every opportunity to defeat gas drilling, for all of the reason that you are aware of.  

Finally, in response to being outspent, surely you are aware of Mr. Adelson, the billionaire Tea Party supporter who contributed millions up millions of dollars to far right wing candidates?  Well guess what?  All of the candidates he supported lost.  Not due to the lack of funds on the other side, but because the people knew what decision was in their best interest, and made it.  I have faith in the voters of Dallas, that they would support this ordinance at the polls.  Additionally, we know that there is small margin of profit to be made with these wells, which is why the setback distance is so important.  I question how much these companies would actually spend to defeat the initiative. So, you can either stand on the side lines and watch, or you can support the only effort able to get the ordinance we want on the ballot.  The people of Dallas should initiate a signature driven referendum, and place a gas drilling ordinance on the ballot in May 2013.  Let the people decide, not the politicians.  

sbenavides888
sbenavides888

@darrd2010 @sbenavides888 I have training for work that day, but I am open to meeting up sometime soon.  Message me at 214-779-8991 or stephenbenavides@gmail.com

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