City Hall

French Energy Company Seeks Fracking Permit Near Arlington Daycare

The French energy company Total Energies is trying to get approval from Arlington City Hall to drill and frack three additional wells near a daycare center.

In a petition, 69 parents with kids attending the Mother’s Heart Learning Center asked the City Council to take their children’s health into consideration when voting on the Total Energies permit. Daycare staff also signed the petition.

The City Council will vote on whether to approve the permit after a public hearing Tuesday at 6:30 p.m.

“The playground is directly north and downwind of the drill site. Toxic emissions will blow over the fence and put our children in harm's way,” the petition said.

The parents also cited studies in their petition indicating the health risks associated with drilling and fracking. One showed high rates of childhood asthma and increased odds of hospitalization caused by asthma relating to the operations. Another indicated carcinogens from fracking may increase the risk of childhood leukemia.

More than 400 people also signed a separate community petition to City Hall opposing the permit application.

This won’t be the Arlington City Council’s first time taking up the issue, though. Total also asked City Hall to approve the three additional wells at the site last year, but that request ultimately failed.

Total didn’t respond to the Observer’s request for comment, but Kevin Strawser, the company’s senior manager for government relations and public affairs, answered questions about the site at a City Council meeting last year.

During the meeting, Strawser was asked what the company does to monitor air quality. Strawser said the company leaves that up to the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality, but that it drills with electric instead of diesel rigs and checks for leaks on a monthly basis, which helps control pollution.

“There’s no one better in the business,” he said, according to the publication Mother Jones. “I appreciate the residents around the site and particularly the school that’s just to the north of us. And I feel like we’ve cohabitated there for the last 10 years without any issues.”

The council denied the company’s application back then with a 6-3 vote, citing the dangers posed to the students at the daycare and people in the surrounding area.

But some new council members have taken seats at City Hall since then.

“Total is expanding drilling in vulnerable neighborhoods at rapid pace and subjecting Arlington children to highly toxic emissions,” Ranjana Bhandari said. Bhandari is a longtime Arlington resident and the executive director of an environmental advocacy group called Liveable Arlington.

“This is a terrible burden anywhere, but in that part of Arlington, it is a particularly harmful thing to do." – Ranjana Bhandari, Liveable Arlington

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“This is a test case to see if the new City Council will protect the community or allow an outside drilling company to expand fracking near our schools and daycare centers,” she said. Four of the council members that voted no last year have since retired.

Bhandari said they’re expecting a good outcome tomorrow, but it’s still up in the air. “We hope our leaders in our community won’t stand for this, but who knows?” she said.

She thinks the demographics of the community influenced the City Council’s vote last time. She said most of the children at the daycare are Black and Latino. The neighborhood is 40% Black and 20% Latino. The poverty rate is 25%. One in three children live in poverty, and there is an increased rate of pediatric asthma.

“This is a terrible burden anywhere, but in that part of Arlington, it is a particularly harmful thing to do. And people don’t have the wherewithal,” Bhandari said. “They leave their children at this wonderful daycare while they go to work and their children should be safe. This is a terrible predatory thing that Total wants to do here.”

Total isn’t just trying to set up shop near Mother’s Heart Learning Center. “Since 2018, they have applied to drill at three daycare sites in Arlington,” Bhandari said.

Total eventually obtained seven new gas well permits for an existing site near an Arlington preschool called Childcare Network. In November last year, Liveable Arlington's Tammie Carson captured a 10-second video of smoke coming from the site.

According to the Fort Worth Star-Telegram, Arlington’s gas drilling ordinance was updated in 2019, requiring companies to use electric-powered rigs or get a waiver for diesel fuel rigs if they want to drill within 600 feet of protected buildings. The smoke indicated to Carson that a diesel fuel rig was being used at the site. TEP Barnett, the Fort Worth branch of total operating the site, didn’t have permits for a diesel rig, so the site was temporarily shut down.

Bhandari said she’s tried asking Total why they want this site and others near preschools, but has never gotten an answer. “They’ve never said what the attraction is of drilling next to toddlers,” she said.

Maybe there’s something about the site that makes it more conducive to such an operation. But Bhandari said, “I’m more concerned with the people around it, especially the little people.”

More 50 gas well sites and hundreds of wellheads call Arlington home, according to an analysis by Reveal from The Center for Investigative Reporting for Mother Jones. According to the analysis, more than 30,000 Arlington children attend public schools within a half mile of wells. Some 7,600 infants and children also attend private daycares in that radius. A majority of the public school population are children of color and most live in poverty.

The Center for Investigative Reporting analysis found that more than half of the city’s public schools and daycares are within a half-mile of active gas production sites. Additionally, eight daycare centers fell with in the city’s standard set back for the sites, which is 600 feet.

France, where Total is based, outlawed fracking in 2017. "The setback in France is the size of the entire country," Bhandari said. "So, I don’t understand why they don’t understand that this is not right.”

She added: “It seems pretty straightforward to me. It’s a highly polluting process. It’s linked to asthma, birth defects and leukemia. Find another place.”