Today's first meeting of the city's gas drilling task force meeting played out like the pilot episode of a new TV series: It laid out the basic plot line without giving away too much. Which is to say it opened with an introduction of the nine task force members, as approved by city council two weeks ago, then yet another intro by Lois Finkelman, former city council member and chair of the task force.
Finkelman outlined the charge of the task force: to make recommendations to city council regarding zoning, drilling permitting, air quality issues, water contamination issues and any other issues that arise from now until the end of October, when it's scheduled to finish its duty. Finkelman compared the length of their mission to wedding planning: "It's going to take as much time as you allow it," she said. With that, the end of October is a reasonable goal, though not set in stone.
"Dallas is a little bit late to the whole shale drilling experience, and that's the good news," Finkelman said. Meaning: Dallas has the advantage of seeing what impact fracking has had on surrounding areas, and still has time to put in place an ordinance that'll keep Dallas from becoming another Gasland.
"Everything we do will be open," Finkleman said of the meetings that will take place on Tuesdays from 2 to 4:30 p.m. Two meetings are scheduled for public comment, the first of which will be at City Hall on August 2
The bulk of today's meeting consisted of that presentation by Rick Trice, the assistant director of planning and development for Fort Worth, which has seen first-hand the pros and cons of fracking. At the outset, Trice called "noise" his "No. 1 concern," showed the task force through a slide show of drilling site photos while detailing the process, the pitfalls and potential areas of concern -- including valve leaks, produced water disposal, compression station noise and air pollution.
Task force members had several questions for Trice, most of them logistical: where the fracking water comes from (city water distribution, fracking ponds, lakes), where it goes (It's trucked to places as far away as Cleveland), and why drilling sites in Fort Worth use flaring to burn off gas waste (it can be a "clean-burning" option).
Finkelman said the task force will "really look at what the actual numbers of things are" as the process continues, and answer the questions of how many drilling sites, trucks and compressors would likely enter the city, and how much water and other materials would be used in a given amount of time.
Task force member Cherelle Blazer of You Can't Live in the Woods asked Trice if he believed Fort Worth had the "leading code" on gas drilling. Yes, Trice said: With the amount of research and consultation that went into the process, he believes Fort Worth does have a leading ordinance.
Later, Blazer told Unfair Park she felt otherwise. "It's out of date," she said. "I'd like to see us use more progressive models," she added, citing those of Flower Mound, Southlake and Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport. "We do not want a well drilled into every nook and cranny," she said, adding that she wished they could have launched into a more substantial discussion instead of ending the meeting almost an hour ahead of schedule.
"I think we could have drilled him a bit more," she said of the task force's questions for Trice.
During the course of the discussion, Finkelman said the group would look at other area ordinances as the task force meetings progress. Today, she said, they "got their feet wet."
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Theresa O'Donnell, director of Sustainable Development and Construction, gave the run-down of what it would take for a gas drilling site to be approved. The process goes like this: Gas company (XTO or Trinity East, in Dallas's case) requests city approval, city sets conditions (setbacks, spacing, zoning requirements, etc.) needed for a specific use permit; and once (or if) it's granted, a permitting process begins that deals with more specifics, such as storage, parking, signage, tanks, noise, odor and so forth. If a permit is issued, an ongoing inspection process would commence.
Many familiar faces were in the crowd today, among them Raymond Crawford, who told Unfair Park that the meeting was "pretty much what I expected." He's optimistic ... to a point: "I have faith in Lois Finkelman ... and faith in the structure."
Finkelman told us she felt today was a "good beginning" with much more ground to be covered in future meetings. Asked whether those extended leases worth millions of already spent dollars and the threat of lawsuits hanging over the city's head would impact the task force's future discussions, Finkelman said that these concerns run parallel to the task force's mission.
"It doesn't impact our process," she said. "My goal is to put together a set of recommendations that will provide the greatest amount of protection for the citizens of Dallas."