Gas Gridlock

Dallas City Hall steels itself for more gas drilling debate

Dallas City Hall steels itself for more gas drilling debate

Jim Schermbeck
Jim Schermbeck of Downwinders at Risk addresses the crowd before a 2012 hearing on gas drilling. Photo by Claire St. Amant
Fracking opponents
Fracking opponents have been vocal and organized in their efforts to keep gas drilling out of Dallas. Photo by Claire St. Amant
Dallas fracking hearing
Public speaker lines frequently run out the door at City Council meetings in which gas drilling is discussed. Photo by Claire St. Amant
Jim Schermbeck
Fracking opponents
Dallas fracking hearing

The City of Dallas will take another stab at reaching a consensus on gas drilling requirements with a public discussion on December 4. The city's previous ordinance was drafted in 2007 and has been under review for several years.

The main issue at stake is the setback distance between drilling sites and homes and other protected properties like parks and schools. The 2007 ordinance prescribed a 500-foot setback, but a gas drilling task force (appointed by then-mayor Dwaine Caraway) recommended a 1,000-foot distance.

In September, the City Plan Commission recommended its own setback figure of 1,500 feet. Now the City Council will have to choose between the two plans (or propose changes) during its December 11 meeting.

 "There's an interest in giving the public ample opportunity to weigh in," says city employee David Cossum.

In the meantime, interim director of sustainable development David Cossum says the city wanted to give residents an extra forum. "There's an interest in giving the public ample opportunity to weigh in," Cossum says.

The city announced the extra public forum at 4:30 pm on November 27 — the day before Thanksgiving. Zac Trahan with the Texas Campaign for the Environment was not happy with the timing.

"It's very discouraging to get this notice the night before Thanksgiving and to have essentially no public notice for the December 4 meeting," Trahan says. "It's extremely difficult to tell people to plan to attend a meeting in the middle of the day on a Wednesday after a holiday weekend."

As you may recall, Trinity East Energy unsuccessfully tried to obtain gas drilling permits in August. Had they been approved, the permits would have paved the way for gas drilling and hydraulic fracturing in parklands and the floodplain — both of which are currently against city code. The permits appeared destined for approval, but a slew of vocal opponents swayed the City Plan Commission (and ultimately, the City Council) into an across-the-board denial.

If voting on an individual gas drilling application while the city was in the midst of revising its overall gas drilling rules sounds like putting the cart before the horse, that's because it was. But Cossum says there's nothing the city could do about the timing. 

"It's difficult to have any type of moratorium under state law, so we just have to keep doing business," Cossum says.

The city's decision on a new gas drilling ordinance shouldn't have any effect on Trinity East's denied permits, though Cossum says never say never.

"Who knows what might happen down the line with potential litigation?" Cossum says. "But Trinity East hasn't indicated they will pursue any legal action at this time."

--

Members of the public wishing to speak at the public forum on gas drilling should arrive at 9 am on Wednesday, December 4. The City Council briefing room is located in 6E South at City Hall, 1500 Marilla St.