Have Mayor Rawlings and the Dallas City Council made a decision to move ahead with existing, pending and even new gas drilling applications without taking any action on the new “fracking” ordinance that has been in the works since 2010?
Two weeks ago, Exxon-owned gas company XTO filed a new gas drilling application—because their previous bid to drill at Hensley Field was denied by the Dallas City Plan Commission two years ago. Then the City Council appointed a special Gas Drilling Task Force, whose members met every week for eight months to consider proposals for a new ordinance. They finished their work in February of this year and issued their official recommendations, yet the City Council has not even begun drafting a new ordinance. The only rumored exception: City officials may consider simply changing the existing ordinance to allow fracking in floodplains, which would be necessary for gas company Trinity East to move ahead with its plans to drill in floodplain areas along the Trinity River. Neighborhood groups and environmental advocates say that’s unacceptable.
“This is the largest retreat of leadership that I can ever remember on such an important public health and environmental issue,” said Jim Schermbeck, Downwinders at Risk. “After three years of citizen complaints, a task force created, convened and concluded, expert and public testimony, and all Dallas residents get is a pair of shrugged shoulders from Mayor Rawlings and the Council? It’s a bad joke.”
There have been several major scientific studies surrounding the risks of fracking since Dallas officials began debating the new ordinance. Community leaders worry that new evidence pointing to health and safety risks for residents living near drilling sites will simply be ignored.
“So what if there’s a 66% higher cancer risk within a half mile of a gas well; so what if already bad Dallas smog is made worse; so what if we still have no idea what chemicals will be used for fracking in Dallas,” said Claudia Meyer of the Mountain Creek Neighborhood Alliance. “It’s as if the Mayor and Council are closing their eyes, plugging their ears, and desperately hoping to make all these new facts go away by just pretending they never happened.”
The new drilling applications leave Dallas officials exactly where they started, with the City Plan Commission being asked to shoulder the responsibility of deciding on whether to allow fracking to go forward. Advocates say the Commission should decline this offer and let the City Council do what it said it was going to do: Draft and pass a new gas drilling ordinance first.
“If we were only going to end up where we started, what was the point of a task force, or public hearings or anything that’s happened since permitting stopped because the City wanted a new drilling ordinance,” said Zac Trahan with Texas Campaign for the Environment. “This is complete and utter dereliction of duty and public trust by the elected officials of this city on one of the most important public health and environmental questions to face Dallas in decades.”