It's been a long road for Dallas gas drilling opponents and proponents alike. The journey that began in 2007 reached a conclusion of sorts on December 11, when the Dallas City Council approved a new gas drilling ordinance that is among the strictest in the nation.
The new ordinance, which was proposed by the City Plan Commission, passed 9-6. The main issue at stake was the setback distance between drilling sites and homes and other protected properties like parks and schools.
The 2007 ordinance prescribed a 300-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. This is in line with other cities in Dallas-Fort Worth. Flower Mound also has a 1,500-foot rule, while Denton sets the limit at 1,200 feet.
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.
The Texas Campaign for the Environment backed the ordinance, though spokesperson Zac Trahan says it's not perfect. "We'd prefer to have a complete ban on drilling, or any industrial activity on parklands," he says. The 1,500-foot setback effectively does that, though the council can allow drilling closer to protected spaces with a three-fourths approval vote.
Drilling proponents worry that the new ordinance will make any natural gas or hydraulic fracking activity impossible in Dallas County and have hinted at taking legal action. Interim director of sustainable development David Cossum says this new ordinance is now the law of land in Dallas "until someone wants to amend it again."