Aug. 23, 2013

Photos by Phillip Shinoda.

Environmentalists are riding a wave of optimism this week after the Dallas City Plan Commission confirmed it has included a 1,500-foot setback in the new gas drilling ordinance being drafted by the city. 

“The impact of this decision should not be underestimated,” said Jim Schermbeck, director of Downwinders at Risk, at a press conference on Thursday, Aug. 22. “We basically doubled the distance that other cities require. That means there is less land that is available for them to drill on.”

Gary Stuard and Jim Schermbeck strategize following the Dallas City Plan Commission Public Hearing Aug. 22.)

If approved in the final ordinance, it would be the longest setback approved in North Texas. Fort Worth and Arlington require a 600-foot setback for gas drilling from protected uses like homes, schools and parks. Southlake has 1,000 foot setback, while Flower Mound also requires 1,500 feet from homes.

In addition, Schermbeck said they are expecting the ordinance to require a full disclosure of chemicals used in the fracking process. Dallas city councilman Philip Kingston, who backs a strong gas drilling ordinance, said this would be a significant step for health and safety.

“We need to know what chemicals wind up in our water system when there’s a leak,” he said, adding that spills are inevitable.

(Dallas City Councilman Philip Kingston speaks at a pre-hearing press conference Thursday. Below, David Barnett said water usage was his big concern when it comes to gas drilling when he spoke during the hearing.)

Meanwhile, they’re also optimistic regarding the gas drilling permits submitted by Trinity East Energy to drill on public parkland in Dallas. Schermbeck said they believe they have the votes to stop the permits from being approved when it goes to the Dallas City Council on Wednesday, Aug. 28. Approval requires a super majority of 12 out of 15 in favor, and they expect at least four city council members to vote no.

“These permits were a done deal in December,” he said. “They thought they could get this by us.”

Schermbeck said city leaders didn’t expect local environmentalists to be as organized and dogged as they have been. On Thursday at the Plan Commission hearing, nearly 30 people spoke in favor of a strong ordinance, including a Dallas doctor fighting cancer who is concerned about the health risks of urban wells. Only 10 turned out from the pro-drilling side.

“This is a real turning point for Dallas,” said Schermback. “We now have a seat at the table.” 

While Schermbeck said there’s already a party being planned to follow the expected victory on the park drilling permits, Claudia Meyer, a homeowner turned anti-gas drilling activist, admitted she’s not going to rest easy until the ordinance is approved and the dust has settled.

“I’m still holding my breath,” she said. “I won’t believe it till it’s in writing.” 

(Right, Cherelle Blazer, an environmental policy advisor who served on the Dallas Gas Drilling Task Force, spoke in a favor of protecting public health. Pictured with Susybelle Goslee.)

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