Gas drilling opponents from around North Texas rallied around director Josh Fox and his documentary Gasland Friday night at the Angelika, in support of local activists who've been fighting the first drilling proposals within Dallas's city limits.
Jim Schermbeck of Downwinders At Risk -- who organized the screening -- said Gasland "has become an anthem" for the anti-drilling movement, and said the debate over gas drilling is just the latest incarnation of the fight to get factories and heavy industry out of urban Dallas. "Here we are again at this crossroads where people are saying this is safe and it is legal," Schermbeck said as he introduced the film.
Councilwoman Angela Hunt also took a turn at the mic before the movie ran, thanking Fox for bringing his cautionary tale to town. "This couldn't come at a better time for this community," Hunt said, reminding the packed theater of the City Plan Commission's recent denial of XTO Energy's drilling proposal on city-owned land, and the upcoming appeal to the City Council. "This is huge," she said. Because it's headed to the council on appeal, XTO's proposal could be blocked by just four members voting against it.
"That is some short-term relief," Hunt said, "but it doesn't solve our long-term problem, which is the responsibility of the City of Dallas to thoroughly investigate and objectively analyze the long-term consequences and the environmental problems associated with this type of drilling."
Fox had been around Fort Worth last week, at work on a Gasland sequel. Earlier in the week he helped DISH mayor Calvin Tillman and drilling activists Tim Ruggiero and Sharon Wilson launch a new program called ShaleTest.org, which'll help folks who live near gas drilling operations get their drinking water, air and soil tested for pollution.
Friday night, all four took seats in the front of the theater after the film, joined by the Sierra Club's Peter Wilson and Raymond Crawford, who heads Dallas Area Residents for Responsible Drilling.
The anti-drilling movement's become well established around Fort Worth over the last few years, but is still relatively new within Dallas. Crawford said he only got interested in the issue six months ago. "It's a continuing education process for all of us," Crawford said -- prompting a shout from one guy in the audience who wondered, somewhat ominously, if "any City Council people need specific education."
XTO's proposal to drill at Mountain Creek Lake will face a formidable hurdle when the council takes it up next month, needing 12 votes to pass. Denying it, however, would leave the city in a sticky situation with XTO, to whom it leased a handful of sites along the city's western edge for $34 million. Crawford also reminded the crowd that the Plan Commission would be taking up a second XTO drilling application before the end of the year.
Peter Wilson with the Sierra Club said that Dallas is a unique battleground in the fight over drilling in the Barnett shale, because the industry is only now moving into the city limits and because the city has relatively little to gain from natural gas exploration. (The shale extends just over the city's western border.) Because it's such a major city, though, voting down the first drilling applications would, Wilson said, "send a strong message that Dallas is in a position of strength."
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The discussion only really turned heated when one guy in the crowd -- who said he's an oil and gas industry geologist with environmentalist sympathies -- asked if Fox hadn't "cherry-picked" his stories to amp up the drama, and suggested that demonizing the natural gas industry was a narrow-minded approach to a market-driven pollution problem, especially when it's cleaner than most energy options.
Tim Ruggiero, who earlier told the story of how an Aruba Petroleum drilling operation had damaged his land, wasn't hearing any of it. "Those fracking gas-holes drilled a well 300 feet outside my daughter's bedroom window," Ruggiero told him.
Fox, who's no doubt gotten used to attempts at debunking his film, responded first to the cherry-picking charges, saying, "Every place I went, there was air contamination, water contamination, health problems," Fox said. "There is nobody saying coal and oil are going to save the world. To say that natural gas is a way out of global warming is not only fasle, it's irresponsible."
Anyone in Dallas, he said, wouldn't have to travel far to see the impact widespread gas drilling has made around over the last few years in Fort Worth. "It's a quick trip over there to see hell on earth," Fox said. "People are going through unbelievable misery."