The city of Dallas website has a "frequently asked questions" thing about gas well drilling. It reminds me a lot of TEPCO, the company whose nuclear reactors are melting in Japan.

Like TEPCO, the city believes that good news is better than the truth. Here is a sampling. A frequently asked question is, "Does the drilling harm the environment?"

The city's answer: "Drilling for natural gas is more environmentally friendly than drilling for oil..."

Oh...my...goodness. Maybe you read our March 10 cover story, "Toxic Avenger," written by Patrick Michels. Michels explained how the stunning volume of pollution from gas well drilling in North Texas helped push the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency in the last year to seize some areas of air pollution enforcement from the control of Texas state government—an extraordinary development.

The drilling pollution is that bad.

In just a few short years seriously toxic air pollution from drilling has grown to 165 tons of bad crap in the air per day in the five-county area around Fort Worth. To put that in perspective, all of the car and truck traffic in the same area produces 121 tons of bad crap in the air per day.

Gas drilling, in other words, can quickly outstrip auto emissions, even in an area that includes dense urban and suburban development.

The City Hall FAQ goes on: "What emergency plans are in place in case of an accident?

"In the case of gas wells, it has been determined that one plan is not a viable alternative..."

I believe what they are trying to say there is, "We'll cross that bridge when we come to it," even though current Dallas city ordinances allow drilling operations within 300 feet of homes and schools.

All of this is pertinent because in the next few weeks the city council is finally going to tackle the questions of drilling safety and pollution in the city. City council member Angela Hunt has led the way on the issue by proposing the council form a task force, up for a vote April 20.

Don't get your hopes up. Some of the background here is not just worrisome. It's scary. In 2008 the city council voted to award gas drilling leases on city-owned land to two energy companies.

Wait. Let me go over this again.

This is before the city knows squat about hydraulic fracturing or fracking, as the drilling technique in this area is called. This is before they even devise a safety plan of any kind to deal with fires, explosions or toxic releases. This is before they even raise the question of whether fracking should be allowed inside the city on private land. They sell leases to two big energy companies to allow fracking on city-owned land.

A single council member—Hunt—voted against the leases. She told the rest of the council at the time she thought it was crazy to bind the city to this kind of obligation without doing an ounce of research.

Hunt, a lawyer, warned them it was going to come back to bite them. Why would they sign a contract obligating the city to allow gas drilling in and near neighborhoods when the council had never explored or even considered the issue of safety?

So guess where we are now. The city has accepted $30 million for the leases from those two energy companies. Now the companies want to drill. They are seeking permits for wells near neighborhoods in far west and far southwest Dallas.

It's hard to fault the companies. They paid the money. We took the money. They want what they paid for.

But it's even harder to dismiss the anguish in the neighborhoods where the drilling would take place. In the last year, people here and all over the nation have been bombarded with terrible news about fracking—poisoned ground water, livestock die-offs, flaming faucets, the whole nine yards. Most of it has been disputed, of course, by the drilling industry.

But some things can't be disputed—the horrific pollution numbers reported in Michel's story, for example. And the safety questions, even when the industry disputes them, are eerily compelling.

Fracking is a way to extract natural gas locked inside deep layers of shale. Drillers pump millions of gallons of water into the wells under pressure to crack the rock. The water is spiked with a brew of toxic chemicals. Millions of gallons of poisoned water must be trucked off for disposal somewhere. Drilling pipes, when they come out of the ground, are sometimes so radioactive that scrap yards won't accept them.

The flaming faucets issue has to do with natural gas getting into ground water and coming up into houses from water wells. An endless loop of flaming faucets videos on YouTube makes it impossible to deny that this domestic black magic trick actually does occur in areas where there have been fracking operations.

The drilling interests argue it's not their gas. They say all that gas comes from geological formations unrelated to the ones they are busy busting up underground. They say people in those regions have always been able to light their water on fire.

So we took $30 million from the drilling companies. We're going to have tons of pollution, radioactive pipes and maybe even flaming faucets. And the city will deal with fires, explosions, stuff like that, on a case by case basis, as they come along.

Slick!

What Hunt has proposed and the city council will vote on next month is a task force to look at the issues and recommend changes to the city's drilling ordinance. Those changes might include any number of things that would reinforce public safety without denying the energy companies the right to exercise their leases.

Raymond Crawford, one of the activists pushing for the task force, says the city council needs good basic information so that it can "pull apart the gas ordinance...and make that ordinance so tight and so strong that it is going to protect the residents.

"It can be done," he says. "Will there be accidents? Probably. Will there be some leaks? Probably. But as it is now, there is no air monitoring required. There is no reporting of spills required and (drilling) 300 feet from your bedroom window is the law."

Jim Schermbeck, head of a group called Downwinders At Risk and unofficial dean of the state's clean air activism community, argues that all local officials—not just in Dallas—have an obligation to learn about the health risks associated with fracking.

"Here is a new source of things we know can give you cancer and known neurotoxins," he says. "People in the Fort Worth area are literally now swimming in a sea of this stuff that's getting higher and higher as more facilities come into the area and into the urban environment, and you are increasing everybody's exposure to this."

Schermbeck points out that regulating the actual drilling process itself is only a beginning. "The drilling rigs are just the front lines, the shock troops of this whole thing. You start letting drilling rigs come into a neighborhood, and then you need the pipelines and then you need the compressors."

Gas companies use powerful compressors, often driven by diesel engines, to squeeze high volumes of gas into pipelines and push it along. Schermbeck, whose group spent decades fighting caustic pollution from huge cement plants in Midlothian, says compressors are comparable to cement plants as sources of damaging volatile organic compounds or VOCs.

"One compressor, my God, you're getting a machine that puts out the same amount of VOCs in a year as one of those cement plants," he says.

The city council has been resistant to Hunt's calls for a task force. Councilman Dave Neumann, whose West Dallas district is directly affected, dithered on the issue and ultimately failed to come up with a proposal.

Last week Hunt joined council members Pauline Medrano, Tennell Atkins, Vonciel Hill and Carolyn Davis in signing a request that the task force be placed on the city council agenda—enough signatures to force Mayor Dwaine Caraway to schedule it.

The council has been generally reluctant to tackle this crucial public safety question, and I think we can all guess the two main reasons: 1) They don't want to look stupid for having signed those leases and gotten the city $30 million in hock to the drillers before knowing what they were doing. And, 2) They're afraid the drillers will sue them.

That has been the first position of the drilling companies when other smaller communities in the area have moved toward tighter regulation. They always say they're going to sue.

But you know what? The city gets sued every day. They dare people to sue them. I've written about it lots of times. I think of ordinary citizens like Josh and Jenn Terry, whose small apartment building project in North Oak Cliff was torpedoed by a bunch of sleazy under-the-table city council politics. The city's attitude toward them was, You want to sue us? Bring it on, suckers. We got a whole floor full of lawyers, and we pay them their salaries every day anyway.

Even if the city made a stupid deal on some leases, it did not sign away its basic police powers or its moral obligation to protect the health and safety of its citizens.

I asked Hunt what her goals would be for the task force she has proposed. "First and foremost," she said, "it's to protect our neighborhoods. "We need to take a step back, and we need to look at the environmental issues associated with fracking. What is the current science on the safety of fracking? And go from there."

She does make sense. But that is also why she is often in the minority on our current city council.

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24 comments
Charliegraham06
Charliegraham06

You do realize that EVERY THING you own or use was produced from natural gas and/or petroleum ? Every fucking hippie on a save the world trip is still a contributor to the use of fossile fuels from tooth paste to medical supplies ! As a matter of fact you should move your family to the bush... stripped naked and set free to use only nature ! I'm sure your family would love that! Get off the fucking computer that u only own because of petroleum!

Charliegraham06
Charliegraham06

And one more thing ... Mrs. Hunt is a smart politician ! What better way to get your self know than to be the lone speaker on enviromental issues againts the entire city council! Looks like shes campaigning for Mayor... Then maybe running for governor ! Then president maybe? Lol well played my good sir ... Well played !

Charliegraham06
Charliegraham06

O and btw the lighting of the faucets can be natural not saying it is but can be ..... There are numerous flaming springs around ..... the natural gas is under enormous pressure that can and will find there way to any weak spot in the earths formations without drilling activities . 

Charliegraham06
Charliegraham06

You do realize that EVERY THING you own or use was produced from natural gas and/or petroleum ? Every fucking hippie on a save the world trip is still a contributor to the use of fossile fuels from tooth paste to medical supplies ! As a matter of fact you should move your family to the bush... stripped naked and set free to use only nature ! I'm sure your family would love that! Get off the fucking computer that u only own because of petroleum!

Daniel Webster
Daniel Webster

The Dallas City Council learns slow,but past history reveals there's always someone waiting for a financial gain for themselves. The city coucil listens to the companies wanting to drill but they did not perform their own due diligence by hiring an enviromental expert. Another example of inept council members.I sur edon't want to read in a year or too about leaking gas wells, dangerous circumstances at drilling sites, or city council members being indicted after an FBI investigation....

Darrenwolfe
Darrenwolfe

Maybe the city of Dallas can get out of the contract by looking for a statute that makes the issue come for a vote by the Dallas County voters.

VFW American
VFW American

Typical brainless money mongers that the small brained undereducated keep voting for! These out of touch politicians in Dallas. It is so out of control at the City Council. They keep spending and closing citizen supported activity centers?? I believe that all Dallas County employees must take random drug tests monthly to see who is really straight thinking in this disfuctional city.Go Angela Hunt the "Lone Thinking Person on the Council".

B_T_Gilcrease
B_T_Gilcrease

while oil and gas is a need we cant do without, if you lock your keys in the car you dont break the front window to get them out. the same holds true for oil drilling, at some point the harm done to get that very last drop is to much. I am a oil royalty holder so don't get me wrong, DRILL DRILL DRILL! but at the same time use reason. ask the people out in glenpool oklahoma what they think about fracking, the water did't start out bad but as the oil wells in that area get older and the oil companys try to keep sucker wells going by fracking, the water is undrinkable from a water well around the whole town. to sum it up, yes we need to drill more wells, but we also need to outlaw fracking.

Johnny Mack
Johnny Mack

So tell me again why Angela Hunt shouldn't be reelected? Sounds like she's been the only one with common sense on the council for the last number of years.

mike ellis
mike ellis

fools electricity? Coal? gas? much better , cleaner. not drillers fools Operators Fools

Fannan2003
Fannan2003

It breaks my heart that Angela is only serving one more term on the city council. She's the voice of sanity in that body of lunatics. I shudder to think what mayhem will ensue once she steps down.

George
George

Rent the documentary "Gasland" for more on the story of fracking for gas and the unintended consequences in doing so.

Charliegraham06
Charliegraham06

Here is an idea! We stop drilling ! In the winter we can all just use electricity to stay warm ... Replace all appliances with electric ! instead of gas ! O wait they use petroleum to produce electricity ..... Hmmm wood? So wipe out the trees? Every one bitching needs to look and investigate just what neccessities petroleum and gas products are used to create ! From food to toilet paper and every thing deemened "Eco" friendly can be linked to petroleum and gas!!! I love how people complain about drilling then get in there SUVs and drive 6 blocks to work to ! Use gas to stay warm and every plastic piece u own is made because of drilling!!

Tdaljohn
Tdaljohn

Thats our city counsel....always want money for themselves...crooks...crooks

concerned conservative
concerned conservative

The important thing is that questions are being asked. Maybe Dallas will do the reight thing.

Guest
Guest

What is the big deal?

Democrats are afraid of everything except government handouts.

Karen
Karen

go Hunt! We are with you!

Marc
Marc

Jim, I will have to confirm this, but it may not be a vote on the task force that is happening on April 20. That MAY be a council briefing. It remains to be seen as to whether or not this council takes any action ahead of the May election and the seating of the new council in June.

What is important to note is:

* Dallas has had major water shortages for many years that have resulted in limitations on lawn watering, car washing and other non-essential water uses by residents;

* Only 3% of all water on earth is fresh water, and the supplies worldwide are diminishing at an alarming rate;

* Frac'ing uses 1.5-9 million gallons of fresh water every time a well is frac'ed, and they need to be re-frac'ed as many as 18-20 times over their normal life cycle, so you are looking at up to 180 million gallons PER WELL (and there can be 24-30 wells per well pad) over its life cycle;

* Water used to frac wells is poisoned with toxic, carcinogenic and neurotoxic chemicals that cannot be cleaned and removed rendering that water permanently unusable by humans, animals or plants again, and with the potential to cause birth defects, respiratory ailments, memory loss and mental disorders, cancers and death;

* Water recovered from wells after frac'ing, and that is only about 20-60% of all water injected to break the shale layer, has to be removed, transported over land to deep injection wells, and then pumped into the earth under enormous pressure where the gas industry falsely claims it cannot possibly leech into water tables, surface soil or our air - all of which is documented to be a pile of manure large enough to fertilize the Sahara Desert;

* The Trinity River is the primary drinking water source for over 50% of all Texas residents, as well as many businesses, agricultural operations and other commercial and industrial uses. To drill on the banks of Mountain Creek, a major tributary of the Trinity River, risks creating a legal liability for the citizens of Dallas if frac'ing results in downstream pollution of the drinking water supply between Dallas and the Gulf of Mexico.

These are just a very few of the major concerns that many of us have about urban gas well drilling. We are NOT going to become the next Jed Clampett by drilling in or around Dallas. We sit on the extreme eastern edge of the Barnett Shale, and there is no guarantee of ANY viable flow in Dallas County. If XTO or others drill here and do not find viable flows of gas, then they will cement and cap the wells they drill and all any of us are going to ever get is a lot of toxins pumped into the ground below our water tables that will, someday, come back to bite us.

It is imperative that more people get educated and get involved while there is still time to stop this nonsense. The best thing citizens can do right now is begin communicating to their elected city leaders that they oppose urban gas well drilling unless and until it can be proven to be safe and productive. Once that cat is out of the bag it will never be put back in!

One last point - there never was a quid pro quo guaranteeing XTO or Trinity East the right to drill on leased land. The lease came with the specific stipulation that EACH well to be drilled had to first receive a Special Use Permit (SUP) from the City Plan Commission and City Council. What they got for their lease was the exclusive right to use that property for any legal purpose provided the SUPs are granted. So far, the two SUPs being sought by XTO have been denied because some of us got involved and raised some legitimate questions and objections at the last minute. We need a lot more support to continue winning this battle on behalf of all Dallas residents and businesses. The $33.8 Million the City of Dallas received for the leases would not begin to compensate the cost of remediation in the event of a gas drilling disaster like those we have seen in other parts of the nation. That would make the Gulf oil spill look lke child's play!

Darrd2010
Darrd2010

A few adjustments Jim: the amount was $34 million, done in 3 payments, with the last one being this past Fall. Application #1 is on city owned land-Hensley Field overlooking Dallas residents and the toxic Mountain Creek Lake. Application #2 at West Camp Wisdom and FM 1382 sits in a flood plain, across from thousands of Dallas residents and next to a tributary that links both Joe Pool and Mountain Creek. That land is owned by Luminant.

You hit the nail on the head when back in 2008, the city manager managed to ram rod this through the council without discussion. Sort of like: Mamma knows best. Only Hunt and Rasansky said, 'wait a minute'. You can see the whole story on Hunt's blog from February 8, 2008. No one else said a word. Fast forward to 2010, the first application tries to slip under the door, six months BEFORE the lease is to expire. The city and XTO hold their breath and boom! they get caught. A weak ordinance cobbled together by the city planning commission with help by the industry and,Voila! there's you're industry influenced ordinance.

No, we don't live on water wells. We get our water from lakes and the Trinity. Grapevine Lake( our main water source) was just about to have drilling ON THE SHORES last December when word got out, Angela went up and along with others managed to stop the drillers in Flower Mound.Flower Mound is currently being sued by the applicants but we still have our water, for now.Oh, yeah, Dallas Water didn't know about the application at the time, so they say.

Yeah, the city has deferred any applications until Fall, but while we get a break, the industry is still laying the gathering pipeline network around Dallas and Fort Worth. We have shown the map and the agreement. But again, no one seems to want to know. This continues under the radar and out of people's heads. Those pipelines are used to hook up to the wells and transport the gas. Think explosions.

Unfortunately, this story is not a sexy thing to discuss. It takes time to read, think, and ask tough questions. It's gases,leaks, spills, emissions, VOC's and scientific stuff that can literally change our lives forever.Which is why, we as a people are in the fix we are in today. Think Rick Perry.

Until you meet the people who have either been affected by drilling in our area or meet the ones who are in the potential 'hot zones' of the Dallas applications, you cannot get a real sense of the anguish, anger, and a loss of respect for our civic governments. If you ever need some real voices, we can hook you and the readers up.

Thanks go to you for this piece, Patrick Michels for his thorough reporting on shale gas drilling and Robert Wilonsky reporting on this issue.

We all breathe the same air and we all drink the same water.

Scott R
Scott R

Do you not get the difference between drilling in unpopulated areas and drilling 300 feet from a school? Really? Maybe you should be on the city council.......

Marc
Marc

Shallow thinking like yours is exactly why companies that pollute the air and water that are absolutely necessary for survival can get away with stealing natural resources, killing us with their industrial processes and then selling those same natural resources to us for obscene profits. Perhaps you should try educating yourself about the real and imminent dangers of natural gas production before commenting further.

Of course, this is America, and you do have the right to make a fool of yourself by hyping false analogies and acting as if this stuff being said against natural gas drilling is all junk science. People far more intelligent than you or me know that this is dangerous, and one of them is Dr. Tony Ingraffea of Cornell University who is one of the world's leading authorities on fluid mechanics.

It is a fact that drillers use benzene, toluene, ethylbenzene, xylene, chromiun, cadmium, boron, barium, aluminum, lead, mercury, selenium, propane, diesel, hydrosulphuric acid, hydrochloric acid, strontium and more than 900 other chemicals, most of which are toxic, carcinogenic and neurotoxic in the frac'ing process, and then they inject that same flthy cocktail into the ground to dispose of it resulting in contamination of water tables, aquifers, rivers, creeks, lakes, ponds, water wells, ground soil and air.

It is also a fact that only 3% of all water on earth is fresh water, and that surface fresh water accounts for only about 0.03% of all water on this planet. It is further a fact that "produced water", that is, water laced with frac'ing chemicals, is permanently polluted and forever removed from the supply of available fresh water that we need for our survival as a species. And, it is a fact that we constantly face water shortages resulting in water rationing and municipal limitations on water use by citizens because we have such a short supply. Yet, people like you think that it is okay for drillers to use and pollute 1.5 to 9 million gallons of this precious and scarce commodity for every sngle well they frac or re-frac (18 to 20 times over the life of a well) so that THEY can make a profit and YOU can have a life that is a little easier. How utterly selfish of you!

The drillers count on uneducated, emotion-driven people to defend their nasty processes. Here is what I propose - move yourself and your family 300 feet from a gas well or compressor station and live there until you see yourself and your family members dying from the effects of being exposed to all that crap, and then see if you still maintain the same neanderthal attitude expressed in your post above. Talk is cheap. If you really believe it is safe and necessary, then lead by example. And, ask yourself why no drilling executives or managers live anywhere near where they drill.

Mankind existed on this planet for between 200,000 and 400,000 years without using gas or oil in any form. It has only been since around 1860 that we have used fossil fuels, so there is a long history of mankind surviving without oil or gas. There is not a single shred of evidence of anybody ever living very long or in decent health without clean water and clean air.

Your inane proposals speak volumes about your lack of knowledge regarding this subject. If we pollute ourselves to death, and suffer birth defects, cancers, major respiratory ailments, mental illness and other major medical problems for the sake of having natural gas to make your life easier and cheaper, then exactly what have we gained? NOTHING! WE WILL BE DEAD! Apparently, that is lost on you, Chucky.

There are none so blind as those who refuse to see.

Charliegraham06
Charliegraham06

You do realize that EVERY THING you own or use was produced from natural gas and/or petroleum ? Every fucking hippie on a save the world trip is still a contributor to the use of fossile fuels from tooth paste to medical supplies ! As a matter of fact you should move your family to the bush... stripped naked and set free to use only nature ! I'm sure your family would love that! Get off the fucking computer that u only own because of petroleum!

 
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