Dallas' City Plan Commission Just Got a Very Special Workshop on How Safe Gas Drilling Is

When we last left the beleaguered members of the City Plan Commission, they were opting to once again delay a vote on energy company Trinity East's application to drill for natural gas in the floodplain along the Trinity River. This morning, the CPC was subjected to a four-hour workshop on gas drilling, which looked a lot like a bid to re-educate the commissioners on just how very safe, harmless and well regulated the drilling process is. Just in case any of them haven't gotten the message on how they're supposed to vote.

To recap, briefly: the CPC voted to deny Trinity East's application back in December, due to the inconvenient fact that current city rules prohibit drilling in parkland and floodplains, the only places where Trinity East is interested in drilling. Then, for some reason, they decided to reconsider that decision.

Three representatives from environmentalist groups have filed a complaint with the public integrity unit at the District Attorney's office, alleging that the chairman of the CPC, Joe Alcantar, privately and unlawfully pressed his fellow commissioners to reconsider the vote. But on they went.

Last week the CPC delayed their vote again, presumably while frantically texting their respective council members to please, please, please speed up their decision on new drilling rules in Dallas and make this whole thing just go away. In the meantime, through the work of our own Jim Schutze, we learned that City Manager Mary Suhm had secretly agreed to help Trinity East win drilling rights on city parkland. It's been an eventful couple of weeks.

A vote from the City Council on new drilling rules isn't expected for several more months, and the council has been pretty clear that they'll consider Trinity East's application under the old rules. But that means it has to get through the CPC first.

So that's why the commissioners this morning found themselves hearing from the very same pro- and anti-drilling representatives that the City Council listened to way back in August: Dallas attorney Terry Welch, who previously served on the gas drilling task force, and Ed Ireland, who heads the Barnett Shale Energy Education Council, a group made up of gas drilling companies. Ireland even brought the same slides he showed to the council. Commissioners also heard from representatives of the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality.

Welch told the commissioners he was "opting not to talk about the pros and cons" of drilling itself. "I assume you all have heard an awful lot about gas drilling," he understated.

Welch focused instead on specific land use issues surrounding drilling. He argued that Trinity East is trying to shift the conversation, making it about whether their proposed drilling operations are "reasonable and prudent." Instead, Welch said, the CPC's only consideration should be if the company is proposing a use that's currently permitted by Dallas' ordinances. "The use is key," he said, "not whether or not this is a good site plan."

Welch also pointed out that Trinity East wants one site -- the Luna South facility near the soccer complex -- to be the central location for all of their natural gas compressors. (Compressors come with their own heightened set of noise and pollutant issues, as a 2009 NPR report on compressors in the Barnett laid out.)

"Nowhere in the ordinance are compressors for other operation sites permitted at a central site," Welch said. While grouping the compressors together on a central pad site "might make sense for an operator financially," he said, "they're not a permitted use." He noted that the city's interpretation of the rules around compressors and compression sites "seems to have changed."

Welch also referred to a recent letter from State Senator John Carona, urging the mayor to suspend consideration on Trinity East's proposal until more study on drilling's environmental impacts can be done.

"I agree with Carona," Welch said. "These are large facilities. They'll be there for decades. It's prudent for the city to inquire on their emissions effects." In a little jab at the TCEQ reps in the room, he added that the city could likely expect "very little enforcement" from them or from any federal regulatory body.

As he wrapped up, Welch told the commissioners, basically, that it was time to pass the buck back to the City Council where it belongs. "I would suggest to you that it's prudent to say to the council, 'Make the changes you think are necessary. Whatever you do, be fully consistent with these issues.'"

Welch started to take questions from the commissioners. They were asking him about the environmental impacts of having several compressors on one pad site when an assistant city attorney I didn't recognize charged up to the microphone beside him. She seemed rather exasperated.

"You are going to be voting on three SUPs," she told the commissioners curtly. "These are land use issues. Floodplain issues don't go through the CPC."

Another assistant city attorney, John Rogers, chimed in. "Mr. Welch is not here to brief you on legal issues," he said, rather sternly. "He should not be giving you legal advice. If you need legal advice, the city attorney's office will provide it."

A few moments later, Ed Ireland took the mic. He described the Barnett Shale Energy Education Council, somewhat accurately, as "a community outreach effort to provide energy education." Ireland told the CPC that none of the drilling operations in urban areas in the Barnett Shale have resulted in any air or water pollution, at least according to the TCEQ. What's more, he added, the "economic impact" would be tremendous. He showed them several pages of slides with million dollar figures from other cities that have allowed drilling, before Chairman Alcantar coughed gently and asked him to stick to "the land use aspects."

Ireland did that for a while, showing the commissioners a photo of a lovely tree-lined gas drilling site in Fort Worth. He followed that a few moments later with a photo of a "completed" site in Burleson, which is now a golf course. He then spoke about how every chemical used in the fracking process is disclosed on a government-run website, unless of course it's a trade secret. It was exactly identical to his previous presentation to the City Council, and it was unclear how it dealt with any of the specific land use issues before the CPC.

In response to questions from the commissioners, though, Ireland did explain how energy companies build in floodplains: by elevating their tanks well above ground level, and locating any storage facilities out of the floodplain area. When Commissioner Ann Bagley asked if he knew of any compressor stations currently located in a floodplain, as Trinity East is proposing, Ireland replied, "I can't think of any off the top of my head."

Ireland also denied that there's "any relationship between seismic activity" (earthquakes) "and hydraulic fracturing." (There is.) He also claimed that injection wells, where waste from the fracking process is stored, couldn't possibly be causing any earthquakes. He described the injection wells as containing "just very salty water," prompting some outraged giggling from the environmentalists in the audience. (There's a lot of other stuff in there, and it's toxic. That's why they're putting it miles below the earth's surface in the first place. Where it causes earthquakes.)

Ireland passed off any specific questions about health risks associated with fracking to the TCEQ representatives. Erin Selvera did most of the talking for them; she's a special assistant with the TCEQ's Air Permits Division who is also a lawyer. She first ran through a jargon-filled presentation on the permitting process, as well as the self-reporting on air pollution that gas companies do for the state each year. Commissioner Sally Wolfish asked her if fracking is safe and not hazardous to human beings, provided all the rules are followed.

Of course, Selvera replied. "We don't anticipate any adverse effects on human health or the environment."

At that point, Zac Trahan from Texas Campaign for the Environment held up a yellow manila folder from the audience. He'd written the word "LIE" on one side and "SHAME" on the other. A security guard immediately escorted him from the building.

"The TCEQ says the same thing about every industry, every polluting facility, every proposal," Trahan wrote in an email to us later. "They are in favor of industry each and every time. They believe their mission is to grant permits to polluters. Whether it's a landfill, a gas processing facility, a cement plant, a coal-fired power plant, anything, TCEQ will always bend over backwards to grant the industry's wishes. They aren't credible."

Trahan added that he's waved similar placards from the audience in the past, without being kicked out. "But at least I didn't have to sit through any more lies from the state environmental agency," he added.

The TCEQ reps took another two hours or so to tell the commissioners how healthy drilling is, before the CPC went into executive session to talk with the city attorney's office. The saga continues.

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Good to see that Mary Suhm has her own Tammy Palomino jumping up and down trying to protect her boss's intentions to 'seal the deal' by interrupting Terry Welch.  Keeping those legs strong Tammy, we got more for you that's going to keep you jumping for either a long time or perhaps jumping for a new job. Get ready girlfriend!


Today's briefing made me feel like I had just been de-briefed! As usual, Ed Ireland constantly lied through his teeth. There have been MANY proven cases of people being sickened or dying because of exposure to frac fluids or air emissions, but what Ireland and his industry do not ever tell you is that companies settle out of court with victims and bar them, through non-disclosure agreements, from revealing that they were harmed by the oil and gas industry. Not having any "verifiable proof" is not the same as "it never happens." Just last week a man was found dead at a well site in North Texas where he was transferring produced water and was apparently overcome by the toxic vapors resulting in a heart attack that dropped him dead!

Ireland later said that produced water is just very salty water. Well, it damned sure is not laced with sodium chloride (NaCl) - Morton's table salt! The salts that come up with the flowback and produced water are laden with all sorts of chemical toxins, carcinogens and neurotoxins that were mixed with the water during the frac'ing process, as well as all those same classes of hazardous materials plus radioactivity from deep inside the earth that returns to the surface during flowback operations and production. The very reason why industry carts that water off to dispose in injection wells is because it is so highly contaminated with hazardous materials that it can never again be returned to the hydrologic cycle for use by humans, animals or plants.

Ireland claimed that frac fluid is "food grade", and that it will not harm you. I defy Ed Ireland to demonstrate that safety for us by drinking just one glass of flowback or produced water from a Barnett Shale gas well. If he ever did, then we would never have to listen to his lies again, or at least not from him, because he would be dead!

Ireland also falsely stated that injection wells only go down about 10-12,000 feet. The truth is, they go down into the Ellenberger Formation about 15-18,000 feet. And, Ireland claimed they do not cause earthquakes, and he cited TCEQ as his authority on that. For the record, the US Geological Survey, which is the world's recognized experts on such matters, flatly disagrees with Ireland and his industry. DFW Airport Board closed the Chesapeake injection well on airport property because it was causing earthquakes under the runways, and the airport board feared one would break a runway resulting in a deadly crash and a devastation to the global economy when the airport was shut down to repair the damage.

After all his lies it was TCEQ's turn to prove why they are not objective and why they are not concerned about protecting citizens. In the end, the CPC was left with a load of bullshit that would fertilize every desert in the world. Instead of getting useful information they got an attorney who briefed them on legalities of land use followed by two pro-industry groups who were given a rebuttal-free opportunity to lobby the CPC to approve the SUPs. One can only hope those Commissioners actually do have a modicum of intelligence and integrity, and that they vote to reaffirm their December 20 denials sending this matter to the City Council which has completely abdicated its responsibility to enforce existing laws and ordinances and hold this industry to the same standards it expects of its citizens.


Our city government's ability to euphemize, spin, and self-delude knows no limits.

What a draw for those Cal companies Ricky wants to draw.


Better yet, how does an SUP trump STATE LAW?  The Texas Parks and Wildlife Code (Chapter 26) only allows for transfer of city-owned parkland under very limited circumstances (which this doesn't appear to meet).

Further, such a transfer can only occur after public meetings noticed under very specific provisions (again, under STATE law).

The city can oversee the process, but they have to follow state law-- they appear to be ignoring this.

As I understand it, the proposal at hand before the CPC is to grant an SUP that would violate both the Texas Parks and Wildlife Code and municipal ordinances.  This would be done based upon a hearing that in and of itself does not appear to meet the standards required by the state.  What am I missing here?

ThePosterFormerlyKnownasPaul topcommenter

Would someone please explain how an SUP trumps an ordinance?  There is an ordinance against certain types of development in parklands and flood plains.

To the best of my knowledge the CPC cannot do something that is contradictory to city ordinance.


@darrd2010 If I was on CPC, I would be sorely tempted to tell the City Attorneys to shut up and/or move to hire outside counsel.  The City Attorney's office is in Suhm's back pocket.

It may be time for the City Council, CPC and Park Board to start retaining independent counsel-- separate and apart from the attorneys that work for Suhm.


@darrd2010 I would suggest to the CPC that they SHOULD listen to the legal advice of an attorney who has no dog in that hunt. His advice is free and he has no personal agenda. John Rogers and Tammy Palomino acted like no legal opinion but their own was valid. But, Terry was correct in what he said, and he has more experience in oil and gas matters than the entire Dallas City Attorney's Office combined. They may want to listen to the voice of experience rather than the voice of lying Mary Suhm and lying Mike Rawlings.


@WylieH The City Council has scheduled such a hearing at least 2-3 times now, only to be undercut by the CPC's refusal to stick to the script, er, secret agreement, and approve the Trinity East permits. Another one was scheduled for Feb. 27th, but the Notice has not run this week yet, so maybe it too has been canceled. This morning's dog and pony show is proof that the City Staff is still living in their own non-evidence- based-reality and still determined to do their job - of lobbying for Trinity East's permits.

ThePosterFormerlyKnownasPaul topcommenter

PS:  The questions about disposal wells, air emissions from stationary sources, central compressor facilities, flow lines, truck traffic, noise impacts and other items should have been asked and addressed before the City ever let the leases.

An analogy to this would be an SUP about a concrete batch plant and everyone starts talking about how useful and indispensable concrete is.


@ThePosterFormerlyKnownasPaul The guy who used to be called Paul, in all fairness to our city leaders many of those questions were not even on anybody's radar when Mary Suhm went for the gold in 2007. Many of us did not even start getting alerted to these issues until 2009, and many more did not know anything these issues until a year or more later than than. I would bet that most people are still oblivious to these issues today, even if they have heard of frac'ing.

That does not excuse a failure of due diligence, and Mary definitely screwed the pooch on this one, but her blinders were on and she was just looking for an easy way to fill a multimillion dollar budget shortfall.

ThePosterFormerlyKnownasPaul topcommenter

@director21 @ThePosterFormerlyKnownasPaul  

Why is my background germane and yours is not?

I believe that my comments have been factual.

Some wells do produce radioactive materials, some do not.  If you think that the TDH is soft on radioactive materials just see what happens when a regulated material is lost or misplaced.

You may wish to investigate getting a refund on your degrees, you seem to have been shortchanged.  All engineering degrees require course work in both chemistry and physics.

By the way, in all of my posts, I have not stated whether I am in favor of or against oil and gas development in an urban environment.  

My complaint is how the City has mishandled this entire transaction.

To be honest with you, you come across as a Luddite who spews a similar caliber of misinformation as you claim is proffered by the oil and gas industry.

I would like to have an honest discussion with you on this subject, but that does not seem likely or possible.


@ThePosterFormerlyKnownasPaul@director21My background is not the issue, and you are trying to use that as a wedge of distraction. I will not allow it to happen, though I will tell you that I hold two engineering degrees that include a lot of studies in physics and chemistry.

Your claim about NaCl is bullshit, and you know it. In chemistry, salts are ionic compounds that result from the neutralization reaction of an acid and a base. What comes up in flowback and produced water is nowhere similar to table salt, and you know it, so why do you just flat out lie about that? It destroys any modicum of credibility you may have had.

Issues of radioactivity are well documented, and if you are as knowledgeable as you claim, then you already know that, too! I suspect you do. Radon, radium 226, thorium and other radioactive elements have been found in drilling pipes and wastewater from drilling, or releases into the atmosphere as a result of drilling. In fact, the Pennsylvania water treatment plants stopped receiving wastewater from drillijng for treatment due to its high radioactivity and the water treatment facilities' inability to clean it. The EPA has documented radon releases, and published its findings. Do some research and you will find those reports.

The Texas Department of Health rates right up there with the Railroad Commission of Texas and TCEQ when it comes to being a competent, objective agency devoted to protecting citizens.

If the oil and gas industry had any integrity, then we would not even be having this discussion. Your side is losing this fight whether or not you like it. There is nothing you can do about it. As people become educated about drilling they oppose it. Only those who are profiting from it, or those who are illiterate about it, support urban drilling.

ThePosterFormerlyKnownasPaul topcommenter

@director21 @ThePosterFormerlyKnownasPaul  

And yet you have accused me of being biased because of my experience in oil and gas ...

Those questions were on my mind ...

When are you going to share with us what your background is?

In your manifesto that you published above you claimed that flowback fluids do not contain NaCl.  In fact NaCl, or ordinary salt is the largest constituent after water.  There are other compounds present.  The flowback fluid contains not only the original fluid injected during the fracturing process, but also contains formation water.

Do you have any data on the radioactivity that you claim?  The Texas Department of Health does have some precise guidelines on NORM.  If NORM were present in the flowback fluid, it would require more than just simple transport and would require disposal in wells permitted for NORM disposal.

Thank you for sharing your opinion.

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