Texas Campaign for the Environment: News
Dallas Morning News, March 28, 2012 By Avi Selk
Dallas residents discuss fracking fears at forum
A fortune in natural gas lies beneath the western edge of Dallas. Above ground, drilling companies await a city council decision on how close to homes, schools and churches they can operate as they pull it out. And Tuesday evening, dozens of residents met in Old East Dallas with environmental groups, lawyers and public officials who feared the worst.
“All of you today are our last, best hope to get an ordinance that is not only going to protect lives, protect water, protect air — but is going to hold drillers accountable,” council member Scott Griggs told a standing-room-only crowd at the Center for Community Cooperation. The forum was hosted by a coalition of environmental and neighborhood groups called Dallas Residents at Risk.
Griggs represents District 3 in southwest Dallas, which includes much of the land leased by drilling companies. Those companies are waiting for the city to pass a suite of drilling laws before they begin blasting water and chemicals thousands of feet underground to extract the gas — a controversial process known as “fracking” that the petroleum industry has insisted is safe and efficient.
The Dallas City Council is expected to vote as soon as this summer after a task force released a list of recommendations for regulating fracking earlier this month. It proposed 1,000-foot setbacks for drilling pad sites from the property line of homes, churches, and schools and 1,000 feet from retail structures as well as mandates for monitoring noise and light pollution, and groundwater contamination.
But those proposals didn’t go far enough for many at Tuesday’s meeting. Presenters showed a slide show of diesel engines the size of buses, convoys of semi-tractors and plumes of “volatile organic compounds” that they warned could overwhelm neighborhoods if drilling laws are too lax.
“Everybody was in love with the wells and in love with the royalty checks,” said Fort Worth attorney Jim Bradbury, who served on a task force that shaped that city’s gas drilling ordinance several years ago. “What no one realized is to sell that oil they need pipelines. We had to level houses.”
Cries of dismay rose from the audience as forum organizer Zac Trahan, program director for the Texas Campaign for the Environment, showed slides of proposed drilling sites in residential neighborhoods — most of them in Mountain Creek. The task force proposed allowing drilling as close as 500 feet from some homes, churches and schools with supermajority council approval — 12 of 15 council members. Every speaker at the meeting said that was too close. The current ordinance says gas wells must be 300 feet from residences, churches, schools and other community buildings.
The task force also recommended that drilling be permitted on park department land if it is not being used for a park, is adjacent to an industrial use area and is not in an environmentally sensitive area. When a slide of a proposed site on city parkland in northwest Dallas flashed across the screen, a man in the audience interrupted Trahan.
“That’s LB Houston Golf Course!” he exclaimed “And it’s probably the most popular golf course in the city of Dallas.”
The speakers at the meeting — including two members of the task force unhappy with its outcome — often dwelled on worst-case scenarios.
But Trahan stressed in an interview beforehand that the coalition wasn’t against fracking.
“If the city is going to move forward we want them to proceed with caution, protect us and balance economic interests with environmental interests,” he said.
“This notion we want to shut down all drilling is crazy. It’s just as bad as ‘Drill baby, drill.’”