Dallas Residents at Risk Aims to Influence City’s Gas Drilling Ordinance
(Photo: A promotional image for Dallas Residents at Risk)
By Julie Thibodeaux
Area activists are partnering with concerned residents to make sure their voices are heard when it comes to gas drilling in Dallas.
Last year, when the city of Dallas created a task force to provide recommendations for gas drilling rules in the city, a group of residents and environmentalists kept their eye on developments.
“We had a shadow task force watching what the task force was doing,” said Zac Trahan, program director of Texas Campaign for the Environment’s Dallas office and spokesperson for Dallas Residents at Risk.
The city’s committee finalized their recommendations for a gas drilling ordinance in late February. Those who had been following the proceedings on both sides of the issue had mixed reactions to the results, said Trahan.
“Some of [the recommendations] were very good. Some were too weak,” said Trahan.
In response, the activists regrouped and began holding their own meetings at Trahan’s Dallas office. The result is a watchdog supergroup that includes veteran environmental organizations, such as Downwinders at Risk and the Dallas Sierra Club, along with area neighborhoods associations across the city. They dubbed themselves Dallas Residents at Risk.
Ed Meyer, a member of Mountain Creek Neighborhood Alliance, which represents 10 homeowners associations, said until recently, he’s never been involved in an activist cause. A retired IT professional, who lives near Joe Pool Lake, he said when he and his wife learned about a proposed gas drilling site near their home two years ago, they immediately had concerns.
“We started doing a lot of research, talking to people, trying to educate ourselves about fracking,” he said.
The more they learned about controversies surrounding gas drilling, the more they were nudged into activism. Initially, they joined Dallas Area Residents for Responsible Drilling. Now they’ve united with other residents who also want to make their views known to the gas drilling task force.
“We want to make sure it’s safe and keep the drillers responsible,” he said.
Over the last six months, members of Dallas Residents at Risk have kept their concerns about air quality, water waste and drilling in parklands, in front of lawmakers. In addition to weekly strategy meetings, they’ve spoken before the city council every Wednesday. They’ve also met with the mayor and almost all of the 14 council members to share their view point.
Crispin Lawson, president of the Dallas Homeowners League, who has a masters degree in public administration, said he’s been pleased with how local neighborhoods have come together to protect their interests. The North Dallas Neighborhood Alliance, which represents homeowners in Districts 11 and 12, has also endorsed the group.
(Photo: Scene from a recent community meeting on fracking in Dallas. Over 100 people showed up to participate)
“When you look at it, there’s really not much benefit for neighborhoods in Dallas to have drilling,” Lawson said.
Over the months, Dallas Residents at Risk has come up with five major points they want the city to include in the final drilling ordinance.
One of the group’s primary goals is to increase the set back of gas wells to 1,000-3,000 feet. The current proposal allows drilling within 500 feet if two-thirds of the City Council approve.
The coalition also proposes charging gas drillers extra for water used in fracking. An estimated 3 to 5 million gallons of water may be used for each gas well. The water is contaminated by chemicals used in the process, rendering it unusable.
“The task force recommended that the Dallas Water Utilities look into water usage by gas drilling. However, we want more than just talk,” said Trahan.
The group also wants to keep drilling out of flood plains and parks, which as Green Source reported last month is a very real possibility looming over public lands in Dallas. Gas drilling companies have already leased thousands of acres from the city along the Trinity River.
In addition, the group says that gas companies should be required to offset their emissions, giving them incentive to reduce them. There are already more than 15,000 gas wells in the Dallas-Fort Worth region. Jim Schermbeck of Downwinders at Risk, a local air-quality watchdog group, is concerned that the rise of gas drilling is canceling out progress made in other industries to reduce smog-producing pollution.
Finally, DRR says gas companies should disclose the chemicals used in fracking so that emergency responders can adequately deal with accidents.
On Aug. 1, the City Council will hear from a representative from the gas industry and one from the environmental community who will give their critiques of the task force’s recommendations. Following that, the council will meet with legal advisors and hold a public hearing before the ordinance is finalized.
Meanwhile, the group is hoping the time they’ve put into sharing their view point will pay off when city leaders take their final vote, expected to happen this fall.
“We’re keeping it in front of the City Council,” said Meyer. “We know we’re not alone. We have quite a few people with different knowledges and abilities. It makes for an effective voice.”
On the web:
For more information on Dallas Residents at Risk proposals, see http://dallasresidentsatrisk.com/.
To read the city of Dallas’ gas drilling ordinance recommendations, see http://www.scribd.com/doc/83539151/Dallas-Gas-Drilling-Task-Force-Recommendations
Sign up for the weekly Green Source DFW Newsletter to stay up to date on everything green in North Texas including the latest news and events. Julie Thibodeaux is a Fort Worth-based writer covering environmental issues, green topics and sustainable living. Previously, she worked as an editor and writer at the Fort Worth Star-Telegram. Contact her at email@example.com.