You're forgiven if you've lost track of the gas drilling debate in Dallas. It's an arcane subject to begin with. Throw in byzantine layers of City Hall bureaucracy and city officials' subtle push to let Trinity East Energy drill on land it leased from the city, and it reaches brain-exploding levels of complexity. Not to mention that gas prices are so low that no one's drilling anyway.
In times like these, it's always best to follow the money, which in this case is the $20 million Trinity East paid to drill on Dallas' floodplains and parkland and the damages the city fears the company would win in court if its drilling plans are thwarted. That explains City Manager Mary Suhm's lies to the City Council. It explains how, despite being twice rejected by the City Plan Commission, Trinity East's drilling permits still won't die. And finally, it tells you why, in a series of CPC briefings this summer, the city attorney's office appears to be trying to sneak 1,000-foot setbacks into a proposed gas drilling ordinance when the clearly articulated will of commissioners is a 1,500-foot buffer between drill sites and homes, businesses and recreational areas.
Just how clearly that will was articulated is shown in the transcript of an exchange during the June briefing, which was passed along today by fracking opponents with the Texas Campaign for the Environment and Downwinders at Risk.
Commissioner Mike Anglin: "The mandate generally would be, in my view, 1,500 feet generally and a 2/3rd [vote] waiver down to 1,000 feet."
Commissioner Paul Ridley: "I agree with that."
Chair Joe Alcantar: "OK, any comments?"
Assistant City Attorney Tammy Palomino: "Commissioner Anglin recommended 1,500 feet, do we need to have more debate on that? Is there a majority that wants to go back to 1,000 feet instead of 1,500?"
Alcantar: "I think we are all in agreement on 1,500...you got that, Tammy?"
Palomino: "I do...I will draft the changes to the spacing."
The message didn't stick. At their next meeting in July, commissioners were perplexed to discover that the language of the proposed ordinance still hadn't changed.
Commissioner Paul Ridley: "At the last meeting we had a consensus on 1,500 feet. Why is that not reflected in the base draft?"
Assistant City Attorney Tammy Palomino: "Because at the last meeting at the end I said that staff needed to look at that because those numbers are different....from what the task force recommended....and we need to come back and provide information on how that may or may not affect land use....We did not have a consensus on that, either."
Nor is the change included in the draft ordinance that will be considered by the Plan Commission tomorrow, which is below.
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And why is the city having so much trouble making what should be a simple alteration? Because, says Downwinders at Risk's Jim Schermbeck, a 1,500-foot setback would prevent Trinity East from drilling on any of the land it leased. The 1,000-foot setback, combined with a council-approved variance of 500 feet, would give the company just enough room to frack.
Fracking opponents are not happy. They sent a letter to Mayor Mike Rawlings today blasting Palomino with accusations of pro-drilling bias and calling for an independent attorney to brief the Plan Commission.
"This problem of staff bias towards the Trinity East permits has been omnipresent at Dallas City Hall since the 2007 secret deal between Trinity East and City Manager Mary Suhm was signed," they write. "There has been a long trail of contorting the process over the last six years."