What the frack?

Fracking debate labors on as city officials delay decision once again

Fracking debate labors on as city officials delay decision once again

Jim Schermbeck
Jim Schermbeck addresses the crowd before the City Plan Commission hearing on natural gas drilling permits. Schermbeck was forcibly removed from the hearing when he tried to approach the podium.  Photo by Claire St. Amant
Zac Trahan
Zac Trahan of Texas Campaign for the Environment was one of about a dozen people wearing a soccer uniform to protest gas drilling in L.B. Houston Park.  Photo by Claire St. Amant
Security removing speaker
Two people were forcibly removed from the public hearing on fracking when they tried to speak after the allotted time had expired.  Photo by Claire St. Amant
Crowd at fracking hearing
Many people who attended the February 7 public hearing on fracking were not allowed to speak due to time constraints.  Photo by Claire St. Amant
Fracking opponents
At a Janaury 10 hearing, crowd members held signs and chanted "sham" after the vote to reconsider natural gas drilling passed.  Photo by Claire St. Amant
Jim Schermbeck
Zac Trahan
Security removing speaker
Crowd at fracking hearing
Fracking opponents

Apparently the City of Dallas did not make a New Year's resolution to be more direct. The fracking debate continues to move at a glacial pace, despite the revelation today that a city official once assured Trinity East Energy that the process would be routine.

That was five years ago, and city manager Mary Suhm is in hot water after the Dallas Observer published her signature on a letter "of good faith" with Trinity East.

 Zac Trahan with the Texas Campaign for the Environment characterizes the dance between the City Council and the City Plan Commission as "a game of chicken."

Perhaps that added twist in the narrative affected the City Plan Commission's decision to continue to hold natural gas drilling permits on parklands under advisement. Perhaps it was a forgone conclusion. It's hard to tell considering the commission was already playing hot potato with fracking before Suhm's secret letter came to light. 

Once upon a time, on December 20, 2012, the commission denied Trinity East's request to drill in L.B. Houston Park, which is a parkland and in the flood plain. Both those characteristics stand in contrast to current Dallas law.

The City Council has the power to amend the ordinance that prohibits drilling in those locations but, to date, has neglected to do so.

On January 10, the commission voted to reconsider the permits. The City Council considered reconsidering the ordinance on January 23, but the item didn't make it onto the agenda before the commission's February 7 meeting. Are you dizzy yet? 

The commission will hold yet another public hearing about the proposed permits in L.B. Houston Park on March 21. In the meantime, commissioner Gloria Tarpley asked that the City Council hold its own hearing to decide whether or not to amend a Dallas ordinance that prohibits drilling in parklands and flood plains.  

Zac Trahan with the Texas Campaign for the Environment is vocal critic of Trinity East's plan. He characterizes the dance between the City Council and the City Plan Commission as "a game of chicken." 

"These are very politically unpopular votes, and no one wants to take that first step," Trahan says. 

 There will be yet another public hearing about gas drilling in L.B. Houston Park on March 21.

A boisterous crowd opposed to fracking attended the February 7 meeting at City Hall, with a contingency dressed as a toxic soccer team in jerseys and gas masks. The proposed site of Trinity East's drilling and production facility would be a few hundred feet from a soccer complex.

Two opposition speakers were forcibly removed from the hearing after they refused to heed commissioner Joe Alcantar's request to be silent. Alcantar did extend the oppositions speaking time by 10 minutes in an attempt to accommodate the large crowd, but dozens of people were still not allowed to speak. 

After about 30 minutes of opposition speakers, Trinity East CEO Tom Blanton urged the commission not to be swayed by their passionate testimony, which often included references to articles and studies decrying fracking. 

"Anybody can post information on the Internet," Blanton said, adding, "It's real easy to make it sound like this would be a monstrous industrial complex." 

Blanton says his company has worked closely with the Dallas Park Department, city officials and outside consultants "to develop a thoughtful, responsible, vetted plan" for natural gas drilling and production. 

Dallas Cothrum, a spokesman for Trinity East, calls the proposed site plan "one of the most stringent in the Barnett Shale," with standards that are far above the minimum requirements.  

"If you can't drill in these sites, then you can't really drill anywhere in the City of Dallas," Cothrum says.