After Gas Industry Had Its Say, Environmental Groups to Go In Front of Drilling Task Force

Environmentalists will line up at the horseshoe at this afternoon's meeting of the city's gas drilling task force, scheduled, as always, for a 2 p.m. start time. This afternoon's agenda includes seven presenters who will discuss the effects of drilling from perspectives ranging from hydroecological to financial, all with an eye to the environment.

Drilling industry representatives spoke at last week's meeting, so today's the yin to their yang in the task force's education process, which is slowly and steadily leading up to their recommendations for the city's drilling ordinance. After last week's presentation, when the collective message was, "Drill, baby, drill ... no, seriously, it's fine," today's "Hold up, this is some scary stuff" presentation should be an interesting counterpoint. Several of their PowerPoints are already online; they can be perused here.

This morning, I caught up with one of today's presenters, Kathy Martin, an Oklahoma-based civil engineer, as she drove three hours solely to address the Dallas task force. After three and a half years of examining the drilling industry, she says, "I don't really have an anti-drilling stance. I have an anti-lying stance, which is sometimes the same."

She feels the gas industry is shrouded in secrecy, under the cover of protecting trade secrets. Though the industry has been this way for a long time, she says, it's all come to a head with fracking, wherein several wells can be found on one drilling site and horizontal drilling makes the area of potential impact much greater.

Martin says she wishes the companies represented at last week's meeting had sent engineers to answer more technical questions, instead of "glad-handers" who have rehearsed remarks that are rather cursory. "I think the industry is pretty smart, they just don't tend to show it," she says, adding that she heard a significant amount of nuanced misstatements at last week's meeting.

As far as what the task force can do to adequately and properly protect Dallas citizens, Martin's presentation will address key points that have been emphasized throughout the process: specifically defined set-backs from drill sites, sound barriers and traffic regulations. And she's added a few additional concerns including that the water aquifer here is deeper than in Tarrant County and other areas farther west, meaning deeper, more expensive drilling with greater room for error. "It's a hole where things from the lower formation can communicate with the surface," she says.

"You don't write regulations assuming everything will be fine," she adds. "It's guaranteed that humans make errors." The drilling industry, she said, is "emphatic that they're not doing anything wrong."

Last week, the task force heard from Brian Boerner of Chesapeake, previously the director of environmental management of Fort Worth, who said that Dallas, at the eastern edge of the Barnett shale, will be "minimally impacted by drilling." He estimated that fewer than 50 total wells would ever be drilled because of the formation.

"I think that's not true," Martin says. "Maybe 50 well pads," which can contain 20 or so wells. It's all up for debate, according to Martin, and companies can change their minds once the new Dallas ordinance is passed. The way she sees it, better safe than sorry.

According to the agenda for today's meeting, there will be cameos by city council members. Who, you ask. We're not sure yet, but the group will likely include Sheffie Kadane, who drew some criticism last time he popped in unannounced. After today's sixth-floor session, anti-drilling activists are holding a press conference in the Flag Room of City Hall at 4:30 p.m.

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