To the Barricades

By Downwinders at Risk      

What residents have accomplished in Dallas since last December is nothing short of amazing when you step back for a moment. They took a "done deal" constructed by the Mayor to award Trinity East three gas permits in short order and ground it to a halt. They forced the disclosure of the notorious secret agreement underlying that done deal between the company and City Hall. They repeatedly turned out crowds in the middle of the day for what the Dallas Morning News has described as "one of the biggest zoning fights in Dallas history." And they've now begun to construct one of the most protective gas ordinances in the region.

But all of that progress gets put to the test in quick succession over the next two weeks. That why we're putting out the call again.


This Thursday at 1:30 pm in the Dallas City Council chambers, the City Plan Commission will hold the first public hearing on the draft of a new gas drilling ordinance for the City of Dallas.
There will be only two of these before it heads to the full City Council, with the second scheduled for late September right before a final vote by the Commission. So if you want the Commission to understand how strongly you feel about regulating gas drilling in Dallas while they're actually writing the ordinance, you need to show-up this Thursday.

Please plan on being there in the Flag Room outside the City Council Chambers on the 6th floor at 1 pm on Thursday Aug. 20, 2013 for a pre-hearing news conference with some special guests.

Among the most important things at stake this Thursday is the strong stand taken a month ago by the Plan Commission to impose a 1,500-foot setback separating gas wells from "protected uses" like homes and schools. This distance equals what both Southlake and Flower Mound require in their gas ordinances, and is the longest setback currently used by any North Texas municipality.

City staff, led by City Attorney Tammy Palomino, knows that a 1,500 foot setback will severely limit the availability of land where fracking is allowed to take place in Dallas. Ms Palomino and company are still trying to produce a weak ordinance that will allow Trinity East, or other operators, to go back to the same areas that were being proposed before - park land, flood plains and new recreation centers. A 1,500-foot setback would not allow that to happen. That's why they're trying to scuttle it. Staff wants a 1,000-foot buffer zone that can be adjusted through "variances" down to only 500 feet -- a distance even the Dallas Morning News has called "unacceptable."


Two Wednesdays from now, at their regularly-scheduled meeting on Aug. 28, the Dallas City Council will be voting on whether to uphold the Plan Commission denials of the Trinity East permits - the three permits that have set-off the last nine months of citizen vs staff and council battling at City Hall.  

Since the Plan Commission voted to deny the permits (twice, but who's counting?) the council must have a three-fourths majority, or 12 members out of 15, to overturn that denial. At last count, citizens have at least four or five council votes to uphold the denial, meaning the permits would die a final certain death, even if a majority of the council still supports them, as appears to be the case. Here's the tally as of today:

Against the permits:
Scott Griggs
Philip Kingston
Adam Medrano
Sandy Greyson

Uncertain, leaning against:
Carolyn Davis
Monica Alonzo

Uncertain, leaning for the permits:
Lee Kleinman
Jenifer Gates
Rick Callahan

For the permits:
Mayor Mike Rawlings
Jerry Allen
Sheffe Kadane
Terrell Atkins
Dwaine Carraway
Vonciel Hill

As you can see, despite months of overwhelming public opposition, editorial opposition form the Dallas Morning News, and two votes against the permits from its own Plan Commission, residents have exactly no margin of error in this vote. We must have four to win a permanent denial.

As we know more about when the vote is going to be scheduled during the Council's day-long agenda, we'll post it so you don't have to waste all day waiting to speak.

Rumor has it that the City of Dallas hired an outside law firm to assess the lawsuit threat thrown around by Trinity East in case they don't get their permits. What came back was an assessment that said the City wouldn't be on the hook for any more than the original $19 million paid by Trinity for the six years time on their unexploited leases even if the city lost. But more than this, the outside firm recommended that the city forgo any threat at all and go ahead and award the permits, taking a huge gamble on the company not being able to take drill in the 6 months left on the leases with gas prices so low. So now council members feel like they've been given permission to vote for the permits, public be damned.

And what if the legal firm is wrong and Trinity East does go ahead a drill by February of next year? Well then the council in its infinite wisdom will have carved out a one-time only, one-operator only special class of gas fracking that violates its own rules about such things and can never be undone.

Last August, residents came together in front of the Council and literally blew away the members with their show of support for a strong protective gas ordinance.

We need that kind of showing again, not once, but twice in as many weeks. We need you to stand with us to defend what we've already won. We can't guarantee that your presence will automatically insure victory, but we do know that we can't win the final rounds of these fights without it. Please try to stick with us as we get the job done.  from Downwinders at risk.

Sidebar from Downwinders at Risk

Why a Setback of 1,500 Feet or Greater?
It reflects the most protective setback currently used by any North Texas municipality.
New research about the hazards associated with fracking make it clear there's a lot we don't know yet.

Since Dallas began trying to write a new gas ordinance two years ago there have been new peer-reviewed studies announcing previously unknown dangers regarding earthquakes, toxic exposures, and particulate matter pollution. Dallas should require large buffer zones to account for this uncertainty.

In 2012, the most thorough epidemiological study to date found a 66% higher risk for cancer among residents living within a half-mile, or 2640 feet, of a gas drilling site (U. Of Colorado School of Public Health).

Last June, a federal Centers for Disease Control investigation found 10 out of 11 fracking sites it inspected nationwide in violation of the occupational exposure limits for silica, or fine respirable sand, and issued a hazard alert for workers. Because no fence line samples were taken, the risk to adjacent property owners is unknown.

Just last month, a new study from Emory University found that the distance from facilities that release the chemical Benzene, including gas wells, affect surrounding cancer rates significantly. "...even with moderate changes in distance that there can be large changes in the decrease in non-Hodgkin lymphoma," said Dr. Christopher Flowers, the study's lead author and head of the lymphoma program at Winship Cancer Institute of Emory University in Atlanta.

All of these studies have been published since the Dallas gas drilling Task Force last met over a year an a half ago.

The United States Geological Survey and other geologists have concluded that fracking alone can cause "minor" earthquakes in the vicinity of a drill pad. The Army Corp of Engineers recommends no drilling within 3,000 of a dam or levee because of the danger of vibrations to structural integrity. Homeowners deserve the same level of protection for their foundations. Bridge supports, tunnels, pipelines and other types of infrastructure also need to be protected from this hazard.

In the past, Trinity East and city staff have both argued that that setbacks should be measured from "structure-to-structure" - that is, from the bore-hole or well pad to an exterior wall of a protected use. This is the least-protective definition the City could use and doesn't honor the intent of the 1,500-foot setback.

Your comments are welcomed.