Door Slowly Closing at Plan Commission on Frack Sites Along the Trinity River

Before the Dallas Plan Commission got to what is almost certainly the most controversial matter it has ever deliberated on -- whether and how the city should drill for natural gas -- it spent more than an hour on the positioning of a wooden fence and a gazebo in relation to the street in a neighborhood near Preston Hollow.

Some wealthy car dealer flouted the 20-foot setback from the road when he built his "pavilion," as his attorney referred to it, and was seeking an exemption. Many of his neighbors, it appeared, were quite exercised about this. The commission considered the issue with all due gravity and ultimately concluded that rules are rules, and they couldn't simply give the car dealer a free pass because he was heedless of them. The gazebo, it seems, will have to be razed. These are the humdrum proceedings of a city plan commission.

But on Thursday afternoon, hours later, after it had dispensed with all of its other business, the commission finally got around to the public hearing on a set of rules that will govern fracking in the city. The usual cast of characters -- many of whom do not live in Dallas -- stuck around to address the commission, and their sentiments haven't much changed.

A woman from Carrollton called oil and gas operators "environmental pornographers." A man siding with the industry helpfully pointed out to the commissioners that he'd been referred to by the opposition as a "motherfucker."

Dallas Cothrum, representing Trinity East -- the Fort Worth independent that paid some $20 million to drill for gas in the city -- said the 1,500-foot setback under consideration by the commission means the company will require 250 uninhabited acres in Dallas to comply with the proposed ordinance. "That's larger than SMU and the arboretum combined," he said.

This was only a public hearing, so no decisions were made. I caught up with Cothrum afterward. He said he can't help but savor the sweet irony behind the fact that it'd be easier to site a sexually oriented business in Dallas than it would be to drill a well.

Trinity East CEO Tom Blanton said a 1,500-foot setback is tantamount to a moratorium on drilling in the city. There have been rumors floating around that Trinity East is in talks with the city about a land swap that might be more favorable for drilling. I put it to him, but he wouldn't comment.

I asked him whether he was considering litigation now that it appears his millions could be circling the drain. "Not now," he said. "We're going to go in to win."

He was reflective as the police hustled us out of the building. "I believe this could be the most productive part of the Barnett Shale. That's why we're here."

He chuckled, adding, "And for the $19 million."

As he walked away, heading to the car where his wife waited for him, he looked over his shoulder: "I could have retired on that!"

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