City's Gas Drilling Task Force Received a Public Education at Last Night's Hearing

In the end, council members Delia Jasso, Dwaine Caraway and Scott Griggs skipped Mayor Mike's shindig to sit amongst the public at last night's hearing in front of the city's gas drilling task force. And they were surrounded: The council members were joined by about 100 people who addressed many of the issues topping the list of the task force's concerns -- air and water pollution, truck traffic, proximity to neighborhoods, you name it. In short, they wanted to make sure Dallas doesn't get fracked when the task force makes its recommendations to the council, which will rewrite its drilling ordinance in the fall.

"I need as much information as possible," said task force member Cherelle Blazer. Far as she was concerned, the citizenry's input would serve as a "good barometer" of public concern.

"This task force is an opportunity," said Jeffrey Jacoby of Texas Campaign for the Environment when he took the podium. "You are an opportunity, and, of course, you have an opportunity." He theatrically expanded on his point, saying that the task force has the ability to give energy companies a chance to make "boatloads" of money and that it also has the chance to protect the citizens of Dallas.

"I see you as the group that's going to define the word 'safety' for the city."

"I believe fracking is a license to kill," Dallas resident Donna Turman said. She noted that it felt "surreal" to ask the task force, "Please don't kill us."

Raymond Crawford, often hailed by his fellow activists as the man who got City Hall to pay attention to drilling diligence, asked the task force to pay close attention to drilling impact studies that detail the effects of drilling on water, road conditions, the environment and business. "Very little science was known or was used" when the current ordinance was created in '08, he said.

"No matter what anybody says, there is not a stainless steel plate under the earth," environmental activist Marc McCord said when it was his turn to speak. "We're in a critical shortage of water ... and this is nothing new. There is no new water coming from outer space."

Mountain Creek's Ed and Claudia Meyer took back-to-back turns at the mic, and both ended their three minutes with that quote Mayor Rawlings uttered before the screening of Gasland at the Texas Theatre several weeks ago: "I will never vote to put any neighborhood at risk because of money."

Dallas resident Robert Unger was one of only two people to speak in favor of fracking: "It has proven to be a safe technology," he said. "It is an industry that is respectful of the communities in which we operate and in which we live." He characterized the practice as a "compromise" wherein the positive outcomes outweigh the negatives.

At the end of the hearing, task force chair Lois Finkelman told Unfair Park, "We can hear from dozens of professionals and experts in all the various fields ... but the bottom line is what is the effect on citizens and neighbors and what are their concerns." Public hearings, she said, are another way of "broadening the education" of the task force.

Finkelman hinted that the task force may need to extend its flexible October deadline for its recommendations to council. "Whether or not [the October deadline] is realistic remains to be seen," she said at the hearing's outset, adding that she has her sights set on early November. After that, she said there would be additional opportunities for public input as their recommendations make their way to the city council.

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Leslie Minora