The natural gas industry's slow creep toward Dallas over the Barnett Shale has launched a small army of activists in Fort Worth's exurbs, from small-town mayors to goat fromagers -- a well-organized crew that's gotten used to running into one another at wild parties like the EPA's six-hour public comment period in Arlington last week.
With Dallas City Hall looking at specific use permit applications for a pair of XTO Energy drill sites, though, a new group of is coming together to push back against the gas drilling industry within Dallas, and, hey, tonight's their first meeting.
Newly minted environmentalist Raymond Crawford says he doesn't know how big a draw his new group, Dallas Area Residents for Responsible Drilling, is going to be -- but he'll find out around 7 p.m. at Oak Cliff's Southwood Methodist Church.
Crawford says it was just three months ago that he got interested in the issue, but he's been busy since then trying to learn more about Dallas's plans for regulating the rush of gas drilling operations headed our way. "All summer I've been faxing, mailing, emailing the city council, Mary Suhm, and no one's responded," Crawford says.
In 2008, the city sold drilling rights at two sites along the city's western edge, near Mountain Creek Lake and Joe Pool Lake, for $34 million -- Angela Hunt complained at the time about the lack of a public hearing -- and they've ripened enough that XTO Energy submitted SUP applications for the sites earlier this summer. The city leased gas drilling space to XTO and Trinity East Energy on those two sites, along with Love Field, Dallas Executive Airport and L.B. Houston Golf Course.
To press for openness from industry and the city, Crawford says Dallas can benefit from what folks have already learned in other Barnett Shale communities, and his group's first meeting will include appearances from a few all-stars among the local gas drilling activists.
The slate of speakers lined up for tonight's meeting includes DISH mayor Calvin Tillman, Sharon Wilson with the Texas Oil Gas Accountability Project, Cherelle Blazer with the Environmental Defense Fund, and the North Central Texas Community Alliance's Gary Hogan.
Blazer says she'll be talking about lessons she's seen other communities learn the hard way, about negotiations over their mineral rights and the number of gas wells installed around town. "It would make sense for them to lease together so they all still get their royalties, but then they collectively bargain for as few wells as possible."
Blazer says Dallas has an opportunity to learn from other cities' mistakes, and take a big-picture look at the city's plans to allow drilling. "The smart thing for Dallas to do would be to look at the city in a holistic way, and say where can we site this industrial process and not actually run up against any people."
"There's been a very public fight about this in all the surrounding counties, so I think Dallas is poised to make the best decicions of all the affected cities," Blazer says.