Dallas Officials Look to Be Ignoring Fracking Recommendations to Let Trinity East Drill on Parkland

You're forgiven if you've lost track of the gas drilling debate in Dallas. It's an arcane subject to begin with. Throw in byzantine layers of City Hall bureaucracy and city officials' subtle push to let Trinity East Energy drill on land it leased from the city, and it reaches brain-exploding levels of complexity. Not to mention that gas prices are so low that no one's drilling anyway.

In times like these, it's always best to follow the money, which in this case is the $20 million Trinity East paid to drill on Dallas' floodplains and parkland and the damages the city fears the company would win in court if its drilling plans are thwarted. That explains City Manager Mary Suhm's lies to the City Council. It explains how, despite being twice rejected by the City Plan Commission, Trinity East's drilling permits still won't die. And finally, it tells you why, in a series of CPC briefings this summer, the city attorney's office appears to be trying to sneak 1,000-foot setbacks into a proposed gas drilling ordinance when the clearly articulated will of commissioners is a 1,500-foot buffer between drill sites and homes, businesses and recreational areas.

See also
-Trinity East's Vapor Chase: Drilling thousands of feet into the earth is a cakewalk compared with dealing with City Hall
-Plan Commission Will Consider New Gas Drilling Regs This Thursday

Just how clearly that will was articulated is shown in the transcript of an exchange during the June briefing, which was passed along today by fracking opponents with the Texas Campaign for the Environment and Downwinders at Risk.

Commissioner Mike Anglin: "The mandate generally would be, in my view, 1,500 feet generally and a 2/3rd [vote] waiver down to 1,000 feet."

Commissioner Paul Ridley: "I agree with that."

Chair Joe Alcantar: "OK, any comments?"


Assistant City Attorney Tammy Palomino: "Commissioner Anglin recommended 1,500 feet, do we need to have more debate on that? Is there a majority that wants to go back to 1,000 feet instead of 1,500?"

Alcantar: "I think we are all in agreement on 1,500...you got that, Tammy?"

Palomino: "I do...I will draft the changes to the spacing."

The message didn't stick. At their next meeting in July, commissioners were perplexed to discover that the language of the proposed ordinance still hadn't changed.

Commissioner Paul Ridley: "At the last meeting we had a consensus on 1,500 feet. Why is that not reflected in the base draft?"

Assistant City Attorney Tammy Palomino: "Because at the last meeting at the end I said that staff needed to look at that because those numbers are different....from what the task force recommended....and we need to come back and provide information on how that may or may not affect land use....We did not have a consensus on that, either."

Nor is the change included in the draft ordinance that will be considered by the Plan Commission tomorrow, which is below.

And why is the city having so much trouble making what should be a simple alteration? Because, says Downwinders at Risk's Jim Schermbeck, a 1,500-foot setback would prevent Trinity East from drilling on any of the land it leased. The 1,000-foot setback, combined with a council-approved variance of 500 feet, would give the company just enough room to frack.

Fracking opponents are not happy. They sent a letter to Mayor Mike Rawlings today blasting Palomino with accusations of pro-drilling bias and calling for an independent attorney to brief the Plan Commission.

"This problem of staff bias towards the Trinity East permits has been omnipresent at Dallas City Hall since the 2007 secret deal between Trinity East and City Manager Mary Suhm was signed," they write. "There has been a long trail of contorting the process over the last six years."

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On behalf of FracDallas, I was also a signatory to the letter addressed to the Mayor and City Council. It was drafted because Assistant City Attorney Tammy Palomino has failed to record the changes agreed upon by the CPC and is acting on behalf of Trinity East just as Mary Suhm did when she illegally agreed to help them get permits for activities that are strictly forbidden by existing city ordinances.

For the record, nothing currently happening before the CPC is set in stone and changes WILL be made. Several Commissioners are holding Palomino's feet to the fire over the setback distance, definition of markers for where setbacks start and stop and numerous other changes to the existing city code. While some city officials and staffers are trying to carry Trinity East's water I am confident that the CPC will recommend a more restrictive gas drilling ordinance than that recommended by the gas drilling task force or wanted by the Mayor and pro-drillers on the Council.

In the end, it comes down to one thing and one thing only - the number of citizens who get off their asses and come down to City Hall to stand with us in opposing lax regulation and control over a heavy industrial process that is not suited for areas where people live, work, play, go to school, worship, gather or get medical care. If enough citizens demand a strong ordinance, then that is what we will get. If not enough citizens are concerned about health and safety, property values and our environment, then your new next door neighbor may be a natural gas well, compressor station, pipeline, glycol dehydrator, gathering station or other associated infrastructure that can kill you, make you sick, reduce your property values and destroy your quality of life.

Democracy is not a non-contact sport. Democracy only works when the people being governed control those who are elected or appointed to govern them. It is your choice. What will you do? Will you sit on the sidelines and complain, or will you join us in combatting this invasive and hazardous attempt to work around laws and ordinances so that an out-of-town corporation can try to make money?



I'm not surprised by this seemingly quizzical activity at City Hall.  Of course, I've lived here a long time.  I already know that City of Dallas policy is driven by money rather than something "so silly" as the well being of the people who live in Dallas.  This is what happens when our so-called representatives become commercial lapdogs to the point that, rather than actually representing anything other than, say, "the investor class", they might as well get themselves order pads like the ones at MacDonald's and maybe some gimpy uniforms with lots of "flair" and give the money-hungry greed-heads whatever they want. 

Oh well,  America is turning into a great big whore.  And guess what: It started here in Dallas first. 


I need an executive summary of this.  I'm not an executive, but I like reading their summaries.  Saves a lot of superfluous "words" for me.


Within the past couple of years, it has become increasingly clear that the City Council and other elected officials need to be advised by legal counsel that is completely independent of the City Manager's office.  The problem with the City Attorney is that he works under the direction of the City Manager.


The problems within Dallas City Hall with respect to city staff going "rogue" against the express will of our elected leaders extend far beyond this single issue of drilling within City limits.  City staff take it upon themselves to pick and choose which ordinances to enforce and which to ignore.... they are basically giving the middle finger to the express will of elected leaders on a whole host of issues.  A lot of appears to have to do with "guanxi."  If you have the right guanxi, unhelpful ordinances seemingly vanish, as if by magic.  On the other hand, God help the ordinary citizen without guanxi or even worse BAD guanxi... the City of Dallas will unleash its ordinances upon these unlucky souls like an angry octopus with a basket of hammers.

TheCredibleHulk topcommenter

"Brazen" is too mild a word for this bunch.

I'm sure they've got Suhm covered. Wonder when Mz. Palomino gets hers?

Montemalone topcommenter

Now that Queen Mary has abdicated, has she officially gone on the payroll of Trinity East?

primi_timpano topcommenter

The Planning Commission needs a new lawyer. Any lawyer that fails to revise language as instructed by the client is either incompetent or deceitful. If the retention was intentional, the unchanged language should have been highlighted, and footnoted with an explanation for its retention. Even better, it should have been changed, but footnoted to identify what conditions would need to be fulfilled in order for it to be effective.


To assume that Mary Suhm has retired and walked away from day to day duties is wrong. She and her well trained staff like Palomino continue to push, maneuver, and finagle any way they can to make Trinity East happy. The question begs why Dallas City Hall has bent itself into a pretzel for this small company, when XTO/EXXON just walked their investment.  As shoes continue to drop on this story, I fully expect that there is some other untold story/agreement that only Suhm and Rawlings know about, hence the time and energy spent to appease Trinity East. Truly a corrupt situation.


@WylieH The problem is that the City Manager's salary is paid by citizens who are taxed to fund city operations, and so the City Manager is SUPPOSED to work for US!

Another part of the problem is the lazy, apathetic citizens who are willing to let a very few other citizens carry the water for them because they are either too important or too busy to get involved.

By the way, as the Director of FracDallas I was also a signatory to that letter to mayor Rawlings and the Council though, for some reason, my names does not appear on the copy above.

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