Dallas' Proposed Fracking Law Would Allow Gas Drilling in Parks

Categories: Environment

trinityriverparkfrack.jpeg
agrilifetoday
Dallas keeps promising not to drill on parkland, yet city officials keep look for ways to allow energy companies to do exactly that.

The latest push comes in the form of a draft of Dallas' proposed fracking law, a long-awaited proposal to outline how natural gas drilling should be regulated within city limits. Environmental groups such as the Sierra Club and Texas Campaign for the Environment say the just-released proposal shows they've won some important victories.

There's a but.

The draft ordinance says drillers must stay at least 1,500 feet away from protected use areas, which is what environmentalists have been pushing for. But the buffer doesn't apply to those companies that want to go ahead and drill on parks, playgrounds and golf courses.

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

Seriously. Here's the language from the draft ordinance:

If a gas drilling and production use is located on a public park, playground, or golf course, no minimum spacing is required from protected uses located on the public park, playground, or golf course. The minimum spacing requirements from protected uses off public park, playground, or golf course apply.

In other words, no fracking is allowed close to a protected site, but right on top of it? That's perfectly fine.

"The proposed rules on park land are utterly ridiculous," Ed Meyer of the Mountain Creek Neighborhood Alliance said in a statement.

The City Plan Commission is giving the public one last time to speak out about the proposed ordinance this afternoon before it gets sent off to the mayor and the City Council. Here is the full draft law:

draft_ordinance_9_20_13.pdf

Fracking in parkland seemed to be off the table. The City Plan Commission had twice rejected Trinity East's drilling permits on parkland, along the Trinity River. After more political maneuvering, the issue got another vote last month, and the Plan Commission again rejected the drilling permits.

But it never really seemed like Dallas would give up on drilling on parkland that easily. The City Planning Commission has been working on its ordinance governing all drilling in Dallas since 2011, and even getting the 1,500-foot barrier suggestion in the draft law was difficult for activists. As recently as August, it appeared that the city attorney's office was trying to make it a little easier for drillers to work closer to protected areas. The Plan Commission had clearly voted for 1,500-feet setbacks between drill sites and protected areas like homes, business and recreational areas, but the city attorney's office kept trying to narrow that barrier down to 1,000 feet, as Eric reported.

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24 comments
fracquestions
fracquestions

This story needs to be fact checked because it contains many glaring errors.

First, the CPC did NOT reject the Trinity East permit applications last month. They did that on March 21. On August 28, the City Council rejected the appeal by Trinity East. The CPC has not had a vote on a drilling issue since March 21.

Second, the published draft of the CPC recommendations for the new gas drilling ordinance is NOT the current version. I have a working copy of the draft dated yesterday, which is a week newer than the printed version in this story, and the final version came out this afternoon following the CPC workshop session this morning, and it is significantly different including, among other things, a change of setback distances for compressor stations from 1,000 feet to 1,500 feet - that is no small change!

Third, frac'ing on public park land has NOT been off the table the entire time the CPC has been debating this issue. It has reared its ugly head numerous times. Commissioners are counting on the Dallas Park Board and the City Council to prevent drilling in parks. The City Council will not even hold a mandated Texas Parks and Wildlife Department Chapter 26 hearing on the conversion of park land to industrial uses unless the Park Board recommends the hearing, and if the hearing is held, then one of the stipulations in TPWD Chapter 26 code states that public park land cannot be converted to other uses except that "there is no feasible and prudent alternative to the use or taking of such land." That makes a determination allowing the park land to be converted for not-park use very difficult - almost impossible - to achieve.

Further, a supermajority vote (12 of 15 Council members) would be required to approve the conversion of the park land, and at least for the next two years we have 6 votes, possibly more, who will block any such attempts to approve drilling in parks, so it will not get past this current City Council.

The City Council has the last say on these matters, but Trinity East is already out of the picture (their leases expire on February 15, 2014 and will not be extended or renewed) so there is no incentive to change the ordinances to suit them, especially since they would not even be subject to the new ordinances because they are already legally working under the ordinances that were in effect at the time their leases were signed, and those ordinances, a police power than cannot legally be contracted away, strictly prohibit drilling on park land or in floodplains. Therefore, the City Council has no existing leases that would be encumbered by passing a more restrictive ordinance, and Mayor Rawlings has publicly stated that he thinks drilling is not right for Dallas. His stated sole reason for supporting Trinity East was to prevent the chance of a lawsuit, which was never a reality anyway.

I know it irks those who support drilling in Dallas, but they are the losers in this fight no matter how much they protest. We are seeing signs of their frustration every time they speak publicly. They know that we called their bluff and we won.

See you tomorrow night at the Texas Theater for Gasland 2. There are only 46 tickets left, so if you plan to attend and do not have one, then you need to go to http://www.eventbrite.com/event/8173829143 and reserve your tickets now. There is no charge for tickets, but we expect a sell-out, so don't come without a ticket!

holmantx
holmantx topcommenter

The City is going through the motions to show Good Faith so if TE sues, they will lose.

whocares
whocares

what does it matter what the cpc passes? its the council who has the final say.

some of you environ-nazis need to read up on your city government. idiots.

Gangy
Gangy

I have personally experienced Tammy Palomino's obsession with trying to control the information the City Plan Commission receives on fracking and the leases Mary Suhm solicited.  She is focused like a laser on getting them to approve fracking on parkland, floodplains, and near anything that suits her purposes.  The City Attorney's office is  also trying to allow fracking in the veterans cemetery.  Tammy Palomino seems to have a lot at stake in this fight.

Guesty
Guesty

I know this is an issue on which the Observer can't be objective, but you should have at least noted that drilling on a public park, playground, or golf course is not allowed at all under the proposed ordinance without a separate, specific vote on the drill site requiring approval by 3/4 of the city counsel.  In other words, this proposal is more restrictive of drilling on public parks, playgrounds, or golf courses than it is elsewhere.  

chris
chris

I didn't realize Dallas parks were situated in the deep, laterally offset subterranean shale deposits where fracking takes place. What a fascinating place that would be to visit.


I also wonder how many of Griggs' constituents will be killed on that sloppy, never finished set of dead man's curves on Camp Wisdom out by 1382 while he woos contributors to his mayoral campaign with more newsy issues like fracking.

P1Gunter
P1Gunter

We are all smart enough to realize that by hook or by crook this is going to end up happening, yes? This is Dallas. Outside of Scott Griggs (and with Angela Hunt gone) we are stuck with a bunch of corrupt idiots on our city council. If the price of natural gas hadn't gone into the toilet this would already be happening. The drillers just haven't paid enough people enough money yet.

fracquestions
fracquestions

@holmantx TE is NOT going to sue! They have no legal basis for a suit, and it would just cost them more than they have already lost. Nobody from TE even attended the CPC hearing today.

fracquestions
fracquestions

@whocares It is people like you who are NAZIs and idiots! We who try to protect the environment are winning. Our current City Council make-up is such that we are likely to win every ultimate battle for the next two years. Get used to it!

fracquestions
fracquestions

@Gangy Today, many on the CPC were praising Tammy for her efforts in drafting the CPC recommendations for the new gas drilling ordinance. The last time that happened (last March) was when the City Council did the same thing for Mary Suhm just one month before she announced her resignation as City Manager. I look for the announcement from Tammy, who was hire by Mary in 2008 specifically to assist with the gas lease issue, to follow Mary into oblivion very shortly.

When a city governmental body starts praising your efforts it is time to dust off the resume!

schermbeck
schermbeck

@Guesty "In other words, this proposal is more restrictive of drilling on public parks, playgrounds, or golf courses than it is elsewhere. " Elsewhere being maybe Ft. Worth - the Barnett example city staff always loves to use? That's a pretty low bar indeed, considering Cowtown had no problem fracking and laying pipe in along the Trinity Trail. There are hoops that must be jumped through, but at the end of the day, this ordinance does exactly what the DO headline says - it allows for drilling in the middle of a Dallas park. It sets a terrible precedent for any other industry that wants to come along and exploit public open spaces for their own private gain. It's less protective than the Park Board's original 2007-8 decision to ban surface drilling on parks but allow mineral rights underneath to be sold. It's a regression, not progress.

fracquestions
fracquestions

@chris Chris, while Scott may have been the City Councilman for D3 at the time that road construction was done he had ZERO input into how roads were designed or built. Good luck trying to stick him with that responsibility. You obviously feel that Council members have a LOT more power than they really have.

dallasdrilling.wordpress.com
dallasdrilling.wordpress.com

@chris Perhaps that question should have been asked by those D3 constituents that live in that area, to all the council members that represented District 3 over the past two decades.

fracquestions
fracquestions

@P1Gunter Apparently, you are unfamiliar with our City Council because they are nothing like what you described. There are a few self-serving people on there, but there are also several who are very intelligent and civic-minded, and who do NOT fit your description in the least.

fracquestions
fracquestions

@ThePosterFormerlyKnownasPaul @fracquestions Obviously, you don't really understand this issue because what you said is patently false. ALL public park land in Texas is governed by TPWD Code. Just yesterday, both Assistant City Attorney Tammy Palomino and the CPC reaffirmed that very fact. Perhaps you need to "enlighten" the City Attorney's Office and the CPC, as well as the City Council, which has also recognized that Chapter 26 requirements apply to conversion of city-owned park land.

You are just flatly wrong!

Guesty
Guesty

@schermbeck @Guesty "There are hoops that must be jumped through, but at the end of the day, this ordinance does exactly what the DO headline says - it allows for drilling in the middle of a Dallas park."  

No, it does not.  Read the damn thing.  It expressly states that a drilling permit cannot be granted for drilling on a public park, playground, or golf course without a vote from the City Counsel itself, which must support the permit by a 3/4 vote after a public notice and hearing. That effectively makes the ordinance moot as it relates to parks because the city counsel could give a drilling permit anytime it wishes by a 3/4 vote no matter what any ordinance says.     

chris
chris

@dallasdrilling.wordpress.com @chris No, that uneven, glass-slick, unstriped asphalt dump was done on Griggs' watch. But he won't get to be mayor by keeping those people from flying off into the trees.

holmantx
holmantx topcommenter

@fracquestions @holmantx 

The only emotional one is you.

I'm surprised you are in ALL CAPS!

Both parties must exhaust their side of the contract before TE can or will mentioned a possible lawsuit, Bad Faith or damages.

chill.

fracquestions
fracquestions

@holmantx @fracquestions You are correct, and I can say the exact same thing about everything you have stated on this subject since Day One! But, my "assertions" are based upon the law and reality rather than some pipe dream based in emotion and hysteria.

It is interesting that nobody from Trinity East has ever muttered a suggestion that they intend to sue the City of Dallas. Only people speaking in defense of TE have made those claims. Considering that TE CEO Thomas Blanton and President Steve Fort are both attorneys, I am fairly certain they understand exactly what they signed, and that they knew from the outset that there was a chance their gamble would result in failure of massive financial losses.

Blanton and Fort took what they thought was a calculated risk based upon the fact that nobody had seriously challenged their, or any other company's, right to drill in a city before, so they though Dallas would be a slam dunk. Had they requested SUPs and drilling permits when they first got their leases they would have been correct because we did not know what we knew by 2010, when they finally asked for the SUPs.

This is the complete failure of Trinity East to act in a timely manner based upon their own chosen gamble. A court of law is NOT going to side with them against the City of Dallas.

Guesty
Guesty

@schermbeck @Guesty "You just proved my point. After notice, hearing and a vote by the City Council, gas drilling can occur in a park."  

And how is that different that a world without the proposed ordinance?  How is it different from a world in which an ordinance says "no drilling permits anywhere"?  You do understand that an ordinance that says you can only do something if you can get it approved by the city council is the same as an ordinance that says you can't do something at all, right?  You know, because the City Council can override any ordinance when ever it has sufficient votes to do it.  

schermbeck
schermbeck

@Guesty @schermbeck You just proved my point. After notice, hearing and a vote by the City Council, gas drilling can occur in a park. You last sentence doesn't make any sense. Minimum setback from protected uses is 1000 feet even with a 3/4 vote. BTW - it's council, not counsel.

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