Despite efforts by locals and environmental activists, the Arlington City Council this week gave the green light to three new gas wells near a daycare center.
The council approved a permit for the new wells, which will be operated by the French conglomerate Total Energies. The additional drilling near the Mother’s Heart Learning Center is expected to start early next year.
Liveable Arlington, an environmental advocacy group, was one of the driving forces behind the opposition ahead of a City Council vote on the permit Tuesday night.
“While this was not the result we were hoping for, we still have many to thank,” Liveable Arlington said in a Twitter post after the vote. “We will be reflecting and regrouping over the next few days, but you can expect to hear more from us in the future.”
Ahead of Tuesday's vote, parents and staff at the Mother’s Heart Learning Center, along with other area residents, signed petitions and turned out to City Hall asking the Council to deny the permit. They cited studies suggesting drilling operations can exacerbate asthma symptoms and increase the risk of childhood leukemia.
The daycare is 637 feet away from the drilling site, while its playground is 613 feet away.
Total Energies has been drilling for gas at the site for about the last decade. Kevin Strawser, the company’s senior manager for government relations and public affairs, said there hasn't been a single complaint from the city or state in that time.
Last year, Total applied for a permit to install three additional wells, but the Arlington City Council denied the request with a 6-3 vote. The council members at the time said they voted no because the wells could be dangerous to the students at the daycare and people in the surrounding area.
Total reapplied for the permit this year after four of the opposing City Council members were replaced.
Regarding the vote last year and the one this week, some council members said they feared the city would face litigation if it didn’t approve the permit. They cited House Bill 40, which went into effect in 2015 and says cities can’t ban drilling or implement unreasonable regulations on drilling operations. The bill was partially in response to Denton’s 2014 attempt to ban fracking.
Last year, Ignacio Nunez, who represents Arlington’s District 5 on the council, told residents he felt the city was legally obliged under HB 40 to approve the Total’s permit request. “If we vote unanimously to ban it, I can guarantee we’re going to end up in court,” Nunez said, according to the Fort Worth Star-Telegram.
At the meeting Tuesday, City Council member Helen Moise said, “If we fight House Bill 40, it’s going to be expensive for us.”
In 2013, the Dallas City Council approved an ordinance requiring a 1,500-foot buffer zone between drilling operations and homes.
There will be a final vote on the Total permit on Dec. 14, but it's considered a formality. In any case, the Arlington City Council is expected approve the new wells.