Texas Campaign for the Environment: News
Dallas Morning News, August 1, 2012 By Op-Ed
Dallas community leaders: How to build a better gas-drilling ordinance
After a Texas Theatre screening of the documentary Gasland, Mayor Mike Rawlings took the stage and made a pledge to the packed house: “I will never vote to put neighborhoods at risk because of money.” As the final vote on Dallas’ new gas drilling ordinance approaches — and the first of two briefings on the guidelines takes place Wednesday — Rawlings and the City Council will have their chance to make good on this promise.
What they decide will help define our city for years to come.
Since 2005, there’s been huge growth in hydraulic fracturing, or “fracking,” operations in North Texas. Drilling sites have moved into densely populated urban areas, forcing municipalities to develop new safety precautions to protect their neighborhoods. Now it’s Dallas’ turn.
This is the single most important environmental health issue facing us since the fight over inner-city lead smelters three decades ago.
A special task force was convened to issue recommendations. Most of the work is good, but some of the recommendations aren’t strong enough to fully protect residents and neighborhoods from the full range of risks posed by urban fracking. Rawlings and the City Council must strengthen these recommendations to keep residents out of harm’s way.
One major concern is how close fracking can be done to where people live, work, worship and play. While the proposed 1,000-foot minimum setback is a good compromise, the recommendation to allow drilling, in some cases, to within 300 to 500 feet is unacceptable and should be rejected.
Independent air monitoring in Colleyville and Southlake has shown that residents living 1,700 feet away from a gas well were exposed to dangerous levels of air pollution. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers uses a 3,000-foot “protective zone” around dams or levees because of the potential for structural damage. Residents’ foundations and underground pipes deserve the same precautions. Knowing what we know now, fracking should never be allowed closer than 1,000 feet to neighborhoods.
Gas drilling doesn’t belong in Dallas’ Trinity River park lands either. But the current recommendation would allow fracking even in sensitive floodplains. Since it’s clear that undeveloped park land used for gas drilling will not be subsequently developed as a city park, we should require that areas intended for drilling must first be removed from the park system. Doing so would preserve the integrity of our park system and ensure that drilling will never be allowed in our parks.
Smog affects every neighborhood in Dallas, and 2012 has already seen some of the worst ozone levels on record. Estimates submitted by the state to the EPA shows gas facilities emit more smog-forming volatile organic compounds than all the cars and trucks in North Texas.
To maintain its role as a regional clean-air leader, Dallas must require gas operators to “offset” their new air pollution increases just like every other large industry in the D-FW area. Doing so would at least make sure that our chronic smog problems don’t get worse because of drilling.
The trail of impacts resulting from fracking in other D-FW cities over the past decade shows how important our decisions are now. Although the ordinance has been under review by the City Council for more than a year, there have been few accessible public hearings devoted to it. That’s why residents should insist on hearings before the vote. This issue is too important to decide without allowing residents and neighborhoods to help shape their own future.
The city of Dallas needs to adopt a truly protective gas-drilling ordinance. Whether it does so will largely depend on how much demand for it there is among residents and their City Council members. We urge everyone to contact their City Council representative and let them know you want the strongest possible safeguards. We don’t want to find out too late that good wasn’t good enough.
This essay was written by four Dallas community leaders: Matt Bach, North Dallas Neighborhood Alliance; Ed Meyer, Mountain Creek Neighborhood Alliance; Crispin Lawson, Dallas Homeowners League; and Phil Levin, Old Oak Cliff Conservation League