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Proposed Frack Site on Trinity River Floodplain Will Include a Gas Processing Plant

Trinity East's site plan for drilling. Click to enlarge.
Trinity East's site plan for drilling. Click to enlarge.

Trinity East intends to sink natural gas wells in the Trinity River floodplain, but it isn't the well pad itself that will consume most of that controversial real estate -- it's the natural gas processing plant they plan to set up right next to it.

According to site plans for the Elm Fork lease, Trinity East will process its gas onsite rather than transporting it to a larger, dedicated processing plant. Included in the 200-foot-long facility will be an "amine reflux condenser," designed to strip corrosive, acid gases like sulfur dioxide from the natural gas, preparing it for transport. The site will also contain three 3,200-horsepower generators, each capable of generating at least 25 tons of air pollution each year.

A processing facility was never mentioned during any of the public hearings for Trinity East's special-use permit application, opponents say. At the last plan commission hearing, discussion revolved around emissions from the huge generators and compressor station.

The proposed drilling site, which will extract natural gas by shattering shale deep underground with millions of gallons of water laced with sand and industrial chemicals, ran into stiff resistance not least because of its location -- a spot prone to flooding along the Trinity River. We left a message with Dallas Cothrum, who has represented Trinity East at City Hall, and we'll update when we hear from him.

"The majority of acreage is devoted to this processing facility, not the gas well," says Jim Schermbeck of Downwinders at Risk, an environmental group. "I don't think anyone at City Hall knew what they were looking at. None of this came up (at the December 20 plan commission meeting on Trinity East's special-use permit).

"It was just a regular line compressor, but these are not line compressors."

As we mentioned yesterday, Trinity East won a rehearing before the plan commission, which last month voted to deny the SUP application because city ordinance does not allow drilling on a floodplain or parkland. "I don't think we are in any position to authorize permits at a time when doing so is contrary to city ordinance," commissioner Paul Ridley said last month. "This should be addressed by the City Council -- elected officials -- not us."

But any guidance on fracking within the city limits, according to Mayor Mike Rawlings, is months away. The Dallas gas drilling task force has long since made its recommendation to the council, whose silence on the subject has been curious. Further complicating the debate are the millions of dollars the city took from Trinity East back in 2007, when some sort of deal was apparently cut, according to the company. Now, Rawlings says, the city must weigh the greater of two evils: The odds that a solid rain will wash drill-site pollutants into the Trinity River; foul the air around the shiny new (and 600-feet distant) Elm Fork soccer complex; or result in a courtroom ass-kicking if Trinity East doesn't get to drill.

That is, of course, assuming it wants to drill while natural gas prices hover at an unprofitably low $3 per thousand cubic feet.

If the plan commission votes again to deny Trinity East's SUP when it meets this Thursday, it will take a super-majority to pass the City Council, which seems unlikely. Even so, no need to revise the monologue you plan to read before the commission. City spokesman Frank Librio just confirmed it will not hear public comments on a reconsideration of the motion.


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