Mayor Mike Rawlings took the mic before last night's Observer co-sponsored Gasland screening and told the audience of council members, activists and concerned locals, "I will never vote to put any neighborhood at risk because of money."
And there are high stakes behind that sentence -- tens of millions of dollars that the city signed (and spent) in gas-drilling contracts and the very real risk of being sued if the city does not allow XTO and Trinity East to drill near Hensley Field and Love Field, respectively. Rawlings's statement set a bold but optimistic tone as people settled in to watch the Oscar-nominated nightmares documented at homes near drilling sights throughout the country.
Among those in attendance: council members Angela Hunt, Sandy Greyson, Linda Koop, Scott Griggs and Delia Jasso. So too were former council member Lois Finkelman, who will head the city's ad hoc gas drilling task force, Dallas County Commissioner Elba Garcia and Dallas Park Board President Joan Walne, who replaced Rawlings when he left to run for mayor. Said Rawlings, acknowledging the number of officials in the room, "We know this is important."
The screening came two days after the Dallas City Council approved a gas drilling task force to drive local policy and lawmaking on the issue. And, as you may know, the city is backed into a corner with binding gas company leases and no firm local policy.
Hunt wasn't originally scheduled to be part of the panel. But the evening's moderator, a certain local blog editor, asked for a council member -- any council member -- to address the ad hoc gas drilling task force's marching orders as it begins its long walk toward a hoped-for October deadline. The members in attendance sent Hunt to the front, and Robert asked: Come fall, will the city ultimately allow XTO and Trinity East the right to drill with certain restrictions, or will the city of Dallas ultimately be taken to court for not honoring the company's lease agreements?
"Will we get sued?" Hunt repeated. "Yes. It's that simple."
She continued: "As a city council, our responsibility is to our residents and our environment. You cannot get that back." Hunt said she hopes the city's task force will first determine "whether fracking can be done safely in an urban environment," and then flesh out policies necessary to "ensure that fracking, if it can be done safely, is done safely."
It's hard to say at this point how the council will go -- whether the anti-drillers will rule the day, or whether City Attorney Tom Perkins's threat of massive litigation will scare the pro-drilling faction into signing off on the specific use permits.
The council's certainly making a big show of its support for the anti-drilling activists -- among them Gasland director Josh Fox, who was beamed in post-screening for a Skype chat, but not before Jasso read to him an official proclamation from the city. Fox says today it's but one of two official proclamations he's received -- the other coming from New York. He says last night's presentation was "extremely gratifying."
We spoke at length today about the impact the anti-drilling activists have had in Dallas -- how, as he puts it, "reality shifts depending on the level of government" you're speaking with.
"Here's the interesting situation: At the local level, you find a very concrete appraisal of the situation and a lot of honesty about what's happening from local officials," says Fox, who expects to be back in the area within the next six months as he shoots the Gasland sequel. "It's a confirmation of reality. But when I go to Washington or talk to governors, then all of the sudden we're not in reality. We're in a moment of competing industries, which is testament to the amount of money [at stake]. To have people fighting for you on city council, at the local level, is worth a lot, because it's true representation. And I am noticing it more and more -- that at the local level you have incredible influence on the political system."
Speaking of: Raymond Crawford organized last night's event -- Crawford, described not so long ago as the "catalyst" for stopping the rush to drill, baby, drill at City Hall. he was joined on last night's panel by FracDallas's Marc McCord, Texas Campaign for Environment's Jeff Jacoby, Texas Oil and Gas Accountability Project's Cherelle Blazer, Sharon Wilson, Dallas Sierra Club's Molly Rooke and Downwinders at Risk's Jim Schermbeck. Each spoke of how they don't trust gas drillers, how they've seen first-hand the damage wrought by fracking and compressor stations; time and again they emphasized the need for regulation and safety.
"We've done the industry a great disservice by not requiring better of them...they're out of date; they're out of step; they don't have to do better," said Blazer, a member of ad hoc gas drilling task. "They don't have to be state of the art, so they aren't. I think we need to push them to be on the cusp of how to do this right, and I know that they can."