Tuesday, July 3, 2012 , Updated 12:00 a.m., August 1, 2012
Prospect of gas drilling looms over public park lands in Dallas
The Dallas City Council is scheduled to hear input on the plan twice in August before voting in September.
As proposed changes to Dallas' gas drilling ordinance make their way toward final approval by the Dallas City Council, critics of the plan hope to counter recommendations they contend will protect residents from public health risks said to include hazardous gases, water pollution, and potential environmental disaster.
Among the most crucial changes critics hope to make to the recommendations concerns provisions which would allow companies to drill on rarely used Dallas park lands. These lands include the Trinity River bottoms, home to the nation's largest urban forest and the long-hoped-for Trinity River Park.
Gas drilling companies Chief Oil and Gas, XTO Energy, and Trinity East Energy have purchased mineral rights leases from the city to drill near the Trinity as well as the Bachman Lake Area and on lands in far northwest Dallas which include the former Naval Air Station. The companies are awaiting the city to approve proposed changes to its gas drilling ordinance before seeking permits to begin their drilling.
Allowing companies to drill on designated park land at all, even near industrial areas or on lands seldom used for recreation, leaves other parks vulnerable, says Cherelle Blazer.
Blazer has worked with several environmental groups and was a member of the Dallas gas drilling task force. It was a group which included residents environmental and gas drilling industry representatives who proposed changes to update the city's 1997 gas drilling ordinance. She voted against allowing drilling in parks.
"It's a slippery slope," Blazer said. "By allowing drilling in one park, a precedent is set for possible drilling in all parks," she said.
If the recommendations cannot be changed to protect parks, she hopes the city will save its others by stripping away any park designation from city land permitted for drilling. It's a suggestion already made by Council member Scott Griggs, whose district includes possible sites for drilling on park land.
According to critics, allowing drilling in the Trinity River bottoms is hazardous and potentially dangerous. The Army Corps of Engineers recommends no drilling within 3,000 feet of the river's levies, but some of the sites are well within that. As a result, the task force's recommendations propose allowing drilling within that 3,000-feet limit with Corps' approval, if required.
The Corps' approval, however, isn't required. It doesn't have the authority to refuse or approve drilling, says Zac Trahan with Texas Campaign for the Environment.
"It's a loophole that would allow companies to drill near the levies," Trahan said. "If we could just remove that 'if required' part, we'd be fine and we'd stay out of the Corps 3,000-feet limit."
Drilling in the flood plain is potentially dangerous. Yet if it can't be written out in the new ordinance, Trahan and Blazer hope it can at least be limited.
They also hope to persuade the council to prevent allowing gas drilling companies from placing storage facilities on the flood plain that contain dangerous chemicals that could contaminate surface and ground water if damaged during a flood.
Along the Trinity and other areas where gas drilling may be allowed on city land, Trahan hopes the city standardizes and increases the setback to a minimum of 1,000 feet, requires monitoring or limit the emissions of hazardous gases, refuse water storage pits that have been linked to earthquakes, and demand a higher price for the millions of gallons water needed for drilling that are afterward often permanently contaminated.
The council is scheduled to hear 30-minute briefings from each side -- environmentalists and industry -- about the recommendations at a public meeting August 1. No public input is planned.
Next, on August 15, the council is scheduled to meet in private with lawyers about the recommendations before making a decision expected as early as late September. Critics hope that final decision will disallow drilling on public park lands.
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