Environmental groups worry if Houston can limit oil drilling near drinking water source

Houston Public Media
By Dave Fehling
Original article here

Sharon Mohr lives near Lake Houston. Photo by Dave Fehling

“We’re not trying to shut oil & gas development down,” said Zac Hildebrand, a scientist at the University of Texas Arlington. He’s done extensive testing and research into oil & gas drilling’s impact on the environment.

Hildebrand was on a speaker phone talking to a handful of people gathered at the First Unitarian Universalist Church in the Museum District. They came here to learn about oil drilling after some news that caught some by surprise.

The state has issued a permit for a Houston company to drill an oil well 37-hundred feet from the northeast shore of Lake Houston.

“And I said: What? I knew there were some old wells out there but I didn’t realize was anything active. We’ve got tons of old wells in the Humble-Kingwood-Atascocita area. So I was immediately concerned,” said Sharon Mohr who lives near the lake.

As we reported Monday, the City of Houston issues its own, restrictive permits for drilling near the lake — a major source of the city’s drinking water — and is currently reviewing the application for the proposed well.

But the Texas legislature last year passed an industry-backed state law that limits what cities can do to regulate oil & gas drilling.

“What the law says is cities cannot pass limits on oil and gas operations that threaten commercial activity….they have to be commercially reasonable restrictions,” said Melanie Scruggs with Texas Campaign for the Environment.

Residents and environmentalists say a big concern is that if the proposed well is successful, it’ll start a rush by other drillers to look for oil near the shores of Lake Houston.

Op-Ed: Fort Worth lacks ambition on solid waste management plan

Fort Worth Star-Telegram Op-Ed
By John MacFarlane
Original article here

In San Francisco, composting is a normal part of trash collection. Photo courtesy of SFEnvironment.org.

Fort Worth recently released its draft 20-year Comprehensive Solid Waste Management Plan, outlining how the city will reduce, manage and dispose of its solid waste during the next two decades. It’s an update to the 1995-2015 plan.

While cities like Austin and Dallas have recently implemented long-term “zero waste” plans to reduce waste going into landfills and incinerators by up to 85-90 percent, Fort Worth’s goal is only 50 percent by 2036.

Fort Worth should aim higher and strive for a zero-waste future as soon as possible. That can happen if city officials hear from residents that it’s a priority to reduce waste.

Zero waste is a philosophy that encourages the redesign of commercial and consumer products so that all materials are reused, recycled or composted.

Waste diversion programs such as recycling and composting can be extended to all apartments, businesses, events and public places. Little to no materials are wasted in landfills or incinerators.

While the Fort Worth plan has some good ideas, it does not include specific policies to achieve substantial landfill diversion or sustainability within the 20-year period. Zero Waste Fort Worth, Texas Campaign for the Environment and the Greater Fort Worth Sierra Club think the city can do better – much better!

Organic materials (food and yard waste) continue to be the largest component of municipal solid waste. So, why does the plan only recommend a study to identify suitable city-owned property for a new composting facility by 2020? We call on the city to immediately initiate a pilot program for curbside organics collection and composting, with implementation of residential organics collection by 2019 and city-wide collection by 2023.

Another component the plan doesn’t address well is industrial, commercial and institutional recycling. Currently, commercial businesses are not required to recycle, and most do not voluntarily recycle. But the plan only recommends requiring private haulers to offer optional recycling services to businesses by 2018. We recommend the city require by ordinance that all commercial businesses must recycle by 2019, similar to the requirement that Fort Worth already uses for apartments.

Fort Worth is growing, and there is a great deal of new construction and building demolition. Construction and demolition waste is another large component of municipal solid waste that isn’t being addressed in Fort Worth. The plan only recommends working to establish a program that encourages the diversion of construction and demolition materials. We recommend the city require by ordinance that 40 percent of construction and demolition materials be recycled by 2020, moving to 80 percent by 2029.

Keeping valuable resources from being wasted not only benefits the local and regional environment by reducing emissions and energy use, but also stimulates job growth and boosts our economy.

Fort Worth residents can comment on the plan through Friday by emailing swplan@fortworthtexas.gov. Further information will be available at the Rethinking Waste Open House at 6:30 p.m. Thursday at the Fort Worth Botanic Gardens, 3220 Botanic Garden Blvd.

You can also let Mayor Betsy Price and your council member know you want a stronger plan!

John MacFarlane is the conservation chairman for the Greater Fort Worth Sierra Club, which advocates for clean water, clean air and zero waste.