Other cities sitting on the Barnett Shale are popular among the natural gas industry for quickly handing over their land to be fracked. But Dallas has turned out to be a surprisingly tough conquest. On Wednesday afternoon, the Dallas City Council finally passed its long-awaited fracking ordinance, and the regulations are more restrictive than those of any other city in the Barnett region.
City officials have been deeply divided on fracking, and Mayor Mike Rawlings has always fallen somewhere in the middle, doing some hippie stuff like co-sponsoring a "Gasland" screening in 2011, but then scaring environmental groups in August when he urged the City Council to approve drilling permits for Trinity East to avoid getting sued by the company. (The City Council rejected the permits anyway).
On Wednesday, the mayor went with the anti-drilling council members, joining them in a 9-6 vote to approve an ordinance that requires 1,500-foot buffer zone between drilling and homes.
The natural gas industry is not taking the news well. They say that a 1,500-foot-setback is as good as not drilling at all.
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"Everyone said all along that it would basically be a moratorium on drilling in Dallas, and that's pretty much what it is," said Ed Ireland, the Executive Director of the Barnett Shale Energy Education Council, an industry trade group founded by eight energy companies that have been leading drilling in the Barnett region.
Despite his leadership role on the Barnett Shale Energy Education Council, Ireland was not feeling very educational. Asked by us who he worked for, all he had to say was "no." Another man in a suit next to him said that Dallas' ordinance may cost the city big time in lawsuits. Dallas, the man said, "is making it impossible for operators to drill wells." Asked for his name, he also declined, explaining that "I'm not very fond of your publication."
While the drilling crowd was clearly feeling shy, environmental groups are enjoying a rare public victory. "There's a brand new feeling that environmentalists actually have some clout in city politics in Dallas for the first time," writes Downwinders at Risk's Jim Schermbeck.
The ordinance still allows the council to reduce the setback in certain situations. But even that may be difficult to do. With the bill's passage, the Council also approved a motion by Councilman Scott Griggs that requires a two-thirds majority to narrow that setback.