The city's Gas Drilling Task Force never came to a consensus on the potential impact of allowing fracking within city limits, ultimately splintering into two opposing camps. But they did spend the better part of a year researching and debating the issue's many facets.
It was curious, then, when the City Plan Commission was asked vote on a trio of gas drilling applications from Trinity East Energy without first being briefed on the task force's findings. Even more curious was the resuscitation of Trinity East's plans after commissioners voted to kill them.
If all this struck you as a transparent attempt by pro-drilling city officials to ramrod the issue through the Plan Commission, you weren't alone. Commissioner Sally Wolfish said as much earlier this month: "I think we're being asked to reconsider our votes because a denial requires more votes to pass the City Council and there are worries of litigation."
And so, the City Plan Commission will reconsider Trinity East's permits on February 7. But first, they will get what they never got before: a basic primer on gas drilling.
This Thursday, exactly one week before the vote on the permits, the Plan Commission will finally hear from the Gas Drilling Task Force. They will also take a bus tour of the sites, all in the Trinity River Floodplain, that Trinity East hopes to frack.
I have a call in to City Hall and to task force chairwoman Lois Finkelman, who is scheduled to deliver the briefing Thursday, for more detail and an answer to the looming question: Why now?
For now, we'll have to settle for information second-hand.
Plan Commissioner Paul Ridley said Thursday's briefing was organized by city staff and CPC chairman Joe Alcantar as a way to educate members on an issue they clearly believe to be of vital public importance.
"Obviously, it would have been better to have had this kind of training prior to the initial vote, but I think it is an effort to address concerns of commissioners, myself included, that these applications were being presented to us at a time when we had not" been thoroughly briefed on the issue or heard from the gas drilling task force.
It's "somewhat unprecedented" for commissioners to tour a property they're going to vote on, but that just underscores how important the city believes the issue to be, he says.
Environmental groups have already secured a spot on the tour. Texas Campaign for the Environment spokesman Zac Trahan just sent a press release saying that "concerned residents" will be on board "to make sure staff doesn't misrepresent the facts about the sites."