City Hall

Drilling Industry Reps Not Thrilled With Latest Dallas Task Force Recommendations

MasterPlan Consulting's Dallas Cothrum, the eyes and ears at Dallas City Hall for several energy companies interested in drilling in the city limits, is becoming quite prolific. Last week, we posted the gist of his letter to the drilling task force, which says that their recommended 1,000-foot set-back requirements from protected uses including residences and parks were "deal-killers."

Earlier this week, Cothrum distributed two more letters, and he's currently working on a third, due out early next week. The task force might as well buy binders ... or take up origami.

His January 17 letter says that the already agreed upon 1,000-foot setbacks mean, "You would be adopting a policy whereby it would be easier to have a sexually oriented business, a rock crushing location, a metal salvage yard, or many other uses than it would be to have a gas well."

At Tuesday's meeting, task force member Margaret Keliher, the former county judge, found the whole set-back conversation "uncomfortable" in that they were recommending restrictions on the drilling industry that are more severe than those placed on other industries.

This week's MasterPlan missives also address the drilling task force's thorough discussion defining set-back distances from drill sites to structures that are not classified as protected uses, which fall under the 1,000-foot set-back requirements. But if they're not protected uses, yet they house people for long periods of time throughout the day, what are they? Or how should they be classified?

That was the question that took up a significant portion of both of the last two meetings, delineating what constitutes a "habitable structure," what uses should qualify for protection and where to draw the line. The group zeroed in on setting a minimum distance to protect structures that have certificates of occupancy. Turns out, people can occupy lots of things.

A structure that requires a certificate of occupancy could be an office building, a landfill, a rock crushing facility, a parking lot, a strip club or a cell phone tower -- some, of course, are more commonly inhabited and consequently more worthy of protection, according to both Cothrum and several task force members.

Task force member Terry Welch took issue with the discrepancy in set-back distances for homes versus other places where people spend significant portions of the day. "I don't want to elevate just single-family residential," he said.

"I would rather have it 300 feet from a garbage pit than 1,000 feet from a house," task force member David Biegler said, adding that overly restrictive set-back distances can have the inadvertent effect of prohibiting a company from drilling in a location that is actually more conducive to the process.

After a somewhat divisive conversation, the task force ultimately voted 7-2 in favor of the 300-foot set back distance from a drill site to any structure with a certificate of occupancy. Like all of their recommendations, this will ultimately be approved or changed by city council.

Unfair Park caught up with Cothrum to see what he and his industry clients thought of the latest set-back recommendations.

"I would say we're disappointed," Cothrum says. By his calculations, only one of the dozen or so sites pending city zoning approval would meet the recommended requirements.

"The problem is that this has been a largely academic exercise that fails to meet the practicalities of land use in Dallas," he says of the task force process.

"If you cannot drill at North Lake, that seems crazy," he says, referencing the location where several drill sites are planned pending city approval, and one site is currently mired in the permitting process.

He says Luminant, which owns the North Lake land, has an electricity generating plant at the site that has a certificate of occupancy. "When you can't drill because of your own ownership," Cothrum says, it seems counter-intuitive.

The current recommendations would rule out drilling at other planned sites at Hensley Field and in Northwest Dallas as well. "I think they need to revise the set-backs based on the real world," Cothrum says. "I'd like to know where this is supposed to happen."

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Leslie Minora