This month …Gas drilling
This summer, the city council is digging deep into the issue of gas drilling in Dallas. The Gas Drilling Task Force, which formed in August 2011, is making recommendations on ways to revise the current rules.
Why is the city rewriting its gas drilling rules?
More information becomes available every month on the effects of gas drilling and fracking on the environment, including air and water, and impacts on surrounding uses. Dallas wants to be certain that any drilling done within city limits conforms to regulations designed to protect those who live, work and play here.
Where do you stand on this issue that seems to pit environmentalists against big business? Can a balance be reached?
I believe in the strongest possible regulations to protect residents from any negative effects of drilling. If a balance can’t be reached, we should come down on the side of health and safety.
How much potential revenue could the city see from gas drilling?
Since natural gas prices are very low right now, cities that currently allow gas drilling aren’t seeing much revenue from it. Dallas is on the far eastern edge of the Barnett Shale, and drilling here will not be a gold mine for our city.
The task force has recommended allowing gas drilling on park land and in floodplains under certain guidelines. Do you think that’s a good idea?
The task force recommended that drilling be allowed on park land that is not currently in active use, with active use meaning ball fields, playgrounds, etc. Some of the land where gas drilling leases are in place is around L. B. Houston Park, which is in the Trinity floodplain. Other leases are also located within various parts of the Trinity floodplain. Since the old rules don’t allow drilling in the floodplain, the task force recommendation is a step backwards. Having a lease doesn’t mean a company can proceed to drill. The lease simply allows them to hold the land for possible future drilling. Before any drilling or fracking can start, the company must also get a special use permit approved by the city council. The rules we are discussing will govern whether that permit is granted or not.
How might gas drilling affect our water conservation efforts since fracking involves large amounts of water that cannot be re-used?
There hasn’t been enough discussion to date about the large amounts of water used in fracking wells — somewhere between 4 million and 7 million gallons of water per well — and the fact that that water can never again be used because it is permanently contaminated with hazardous chemicals during the fracking process. Gas companies inject the contaminated water deep into the ground in injection wells. A number of suggestions have been made to address this water issue, including charging higher rates to any user whose water can’t be reused or restricting the use of water by drilling companies during times of drought. A number of Tarrant County cities that allow gas drilling have recently restricted or prohibited the use of water by gas drilling companies during droughts. And a number of those cities prohibit gas drillers from trucking water from their cities to other cities for drilling purposes.
Why should Far North Dallas residents pay attention to this issue?
All of the potential drilling sites are on the far western edges of Dallas, where the Barnett Shale stops. Gas wells give off emissions that affect the air, and our region is already having trouble meeting Clean Air standards this year. Clean air and water and having enough water are important to everyone in Dallas, no matter where in the city they live.
When will the new rules be finalized and put to a vote?
The gas drilling task force was appointed last August and made its recommendations to the city council in May. At the conclusion of that briefing, Mayor Rawlings asked that presentations be made to the council from one industry representative and one representative from the environmental community. Those presentations have now been scheduled for Aug. 1. Each side will have 30 minutes to comment on the task force recommendations. On Aug. 15 the city attorney will brief the council on potential legal ramifications of any decisions we might make on changes to the drilling ordinance. The date for a final vote hasn’t been set yet.