Back in September, using the format of a totally ridiculous board game, we recapped the fight over gas drilling on land owned by the city of Dallas. At that point, the drilling task force had long since wrapped up its work, and a vote from the City Council on new drilling regulations was imminent, we said.
We said that. But we were wrong, because here we are now with 2013 bearing down upon us, and yet the council members appear no closer to voting on a new drilling ordinance. Let that be a lesson to you: never trust board games. The silence from City Hall, meanwhile, is really pissing everybody off, environmentalists and energy company types alike.
This morning, though, somewhat significantly, the City Plan Commission had gas drilling on its agenda. The CPC is the body that will ultimately have the power to approve or deny those applications for Specific Use Permits submitted long, long ago by XTO, who want to drill in an area near Hensley Field, and Trinity East, which leased a site near LB Houston and Luna Road. The two energy companies have been trying to drill in those areas since 2008 or so, and they'll need both an SUP and a special gas drilling permit from the city to move forward.
But very little actually happened at the CPC meeting, and now, it appears, one of the energy companies could be done trying to drill on Dallas land altogether.
The agenda called for a briefing on gas drilling from David Cossum, the city's assistant director of sustainable development and construction, followed by an executive session to discuss "legal issues regarding gas drilling and production." Executive sessions are closed to the public. Typically, one can estimate the ferocity of the shitstorm at hand by how long reporters, lobbyists and the odd interested member of the public are forced to stand out in the hall.
In this case, the executive session stretched on for a good 45 minutes before we were all allowed to troop back inside and listen to Cossum give a not-very-groundbreaking presentation on existing city ordinances on drilling, as well as the task force's recommendations. Plan commissioners were told, very firmly, not to ask questions about specific sites (read: XTO and Trinity East). "That will be held for when individual cases come up," Cossum told them.
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Cossum made it clear that he thought many of the existing drilling regulations would be grandfathered in to the new ordinance. Curiously, he also claimed that a good deal of the controversy over gas drilling is focused on "noise and traffic impacts," something which caused Zac Trahan of the Texas Campaign for the Environment to shake his head silently but furiously from the audience (TCE also opposes drilling due to public health and environmental concerns).
It's possible that the CPC will discuss or even vote on the actual SUP permits on December 20, their next scheduled meeting. But Randy Lee Loftis at the Dallas Morning News now reports that XTO appears to have pulled their application off the table entirely . Unnamed Dallas officials told Loftis that the company "no longer wants the City Plan Commission to hear its case for drilling at the city's Hensley Field."
So does this mean XTO is done trying to drill in Dallas for good? Are they merely awaiting a new drilling ordinance from the City Council before proceeding? Or are they just skipping right to the lawsuit portion of the program? None of that is clear, as of yet. We called XTO, and a spokesperson said he'd look into that report; we'll update when we hear back.
Update, 4:10 p.m.: XTO spokesperson Jeff Neu just sent us a statement, which reads, in full, "XTO Energy has asked the City of Dallas to delay Planning Commission action on our specific use permits."