This afternoon, the Dallas City Council-approved gas drilling task force will take a field trip out to where gas wells are more abundant than Tex-Mex joints and compressor stations roar as though ready to blast off. That place is Arlington.
The band of day-trippers leaves from Dallas City Hall at 1 p.m., heading first to Arlington City Hall, then to a Chesapeake drilling site, an XTO fracturing site, a completed Chesapeake drilling site and a DFW Midstream compressor station. Along with other citizens and media folk, not to mention a few council members who've said they will hitch a ride, I'm going with.
In preparation for the trip, and for a little closer-to-home perspective, I spent Monday morning with some people who live near the proposed Dallas drilling sites. Ed Meyer, who was passed over during task force selection despite Scott Griggs's eleventh-hour attempt to add him to the roster, invited me to see where he and wife Claudia live.
The Meyers' home near Mountain Creek, on the eastern edge of the Barnett Shale, is a little more than 4,000 feet from one proposed XTO well site on Camp Wisdom Road, just off FM 1382. Though it's not directly outside their window, they believe it's an issue that demands extra care so Dallas wells don't proliferate without basic health and safety concerns first being addressed. They remain very active with Dallas drilling issues, attending meetings and doing research as though it were a full-time job. Their main concern is also the basic reason for the drilling task force's formation.
"If we didn't go to planning and zoning [meetings], and we didn't go to city council, there would be no task force, quite honestly," Claudia says of the handful of vocal drilling watchdogs who convinced the council to pause the permitting process while the city takes another pass at its gas-drilling ordinances. She says that with drilling comes a "gold rush" mentality that needs checks and balances.
"What we're trying to do is not have it dissolve into anti [versus] pro," but to have a "dialogue about issues that affect everybody," Claudia says. The Meyers' worries are the common concerns of those skeptical about the safety of gas drilling -- everything from possible air and water contamination to the potential damage to nearby roads caused by the parade of trucks.
"The chances are real good there's going to be a well," Ed says. "We just want it to be safe. ... It's the public pressure that has to demand these safety issues."
A few miles away lives Fred Allen, a Dallas Area Rapid Transit bus operator who faces the possibility of having a well (also an XTO site, pending SUP approval) less than a thousand feet from his home. Traveling from the Meyers' home to Allen's means driving through Grand Prairie, an area punctuated with well sites.
"I have health concerns ... my wife has health concerns, and I've got children," says Allen, who has Type 2 diabetes. "I feel overwhelmed. ... Sometimes I feel like throwing my hands up, but I've got kids. I just can't let it go."
Allen describes his neighborhood as a mixed bag of foreclosed homes, anti-drilling residents (of whom he is the most outspoken) and others who have signed leases with gas drilling companies.
The task force is charged with determining the best practices for drilling in Dallas, recommending zoning restrictions and safety regulations. After an overview of the drilling ordinances in Fort Worth at last week's meeting, today's trip is the next step in familiarization to further the task force's conversation -- bound to grow more specific and intense as the city moves towards the scheduled October deadline for their recommendations.