Drilling Task Force Nails Down Set-Backs, Narrowly Votes Against Injection Wells

At yesterday's meeting, the council-appointed drilling task force grappled with some of the more divisive issues in front of them -- and actually nailed down what they'll recommend the council do about set-back distances and allowing disposal wells for produced frack water. As they deliberated, anti-drilling activists in the audience held up "Yes" and "No' signs signaling whether they agreed with what was being said.

Picking up where they left off last week, the task force began by discussing the possibility of injection wells. David Biegler, chairman and CEO of Southcross Energy, said he felt that Dallas-Fort Worth International Airport's rules, which say that only water produced there can be disposed there, would work for Dallas as well. Like the rest of the fracking process, he felt injection wells should be part of the SUP approval process. "We can rely on city council and city staff to judge" on a case-by-case basis, he said, "as opposed to prescribing negatives, it makes a lot of sense." Bruce Bullock, director of SMU's Maguire Energy Institute, sided with Biegler, as did Patrick Shaw, oil and gas attorney at Woodward and Shaw.

The activists sitting behind Beigler waved their "No" signs at the proposal. Cherelle Blazer, founder of the environmental sustainability organization You Cant Live in the Woods, spoke on their behalf: "I can tell you that I'm concerned about seismic activity. I'm absolutely concerned about it," she said. Terry Welch, an attorney with Brown & Hofmeister who reps muni governments, agreed with Blazer.

Task force chair Lois Finkelman finally called for a vote. And ... the group was split 4-4, so she included her own vote against injection wells, adding, "There would indeed be pressure brought to bear to make it a commercial operation at some point," meaning while they could restrict the disposal sites to produced water from Dallas, their capacity and commercial potential would make it a challenge to maintain the restriction.

Next, the group decided unanimously not to restrict drilling operations to certain zoning categories. To do it any other way could prove cumbersome and ineffective, Welch said. People would simply apply to change the zoning category of their land to allow drilling. And then it was time for a long discussion about set-backs.

"This is easily the most emotional issue and probably the most critical issue in the whole matter," Biegler said. He suggested a distance of 900 feet from the gas well to the nearest protected use. Welch suggested 1,000 feet from the edge of the drilling pad site to the nearest protected use, suggesting it would have less of an impact on property values.

Biegler called Welch's suggested distance "excessive," reminding the group that the distance from the edge of the pad site to the well head would add a few hundred feet.

"I like the number that Southlake has here, 1,000, so that would be my recommendation for just those two parameters, pad site and protected use," said attorney for former Old Oak Cliff Conservation League president John McCall, citing the document comparing set-back distances in neighboring cities' ordinances. He made a motion that the group vote on his suggested distance. The audience held up its "Yes" signs.

In another close vote, the measure passed 5-4. Of course, nothing is final until city council reviews the recommendations and either changes or approves them.

A discussion of set-back minimums, for circumstances when distance restrictions could be eased, also resulted in a vote. With only two voting against it, the task force decided that set-backs can be no less than 750 feet, and that distance easements could only be granted with a council supermajority vote.

As the meeting wrapped up, Ramon Alvarez, a scientist with the Environmental Defense Fund, raised concerns about the task force's goal of finishing recommendations by the end of the month and the amount of ground they still must cover. While yesterday's meeting tackled several of the thorniest issues, the process has been slow-going. Alvarez recommend that everyone read through those "strawman" recommendations compiled by Finkelman and pull any items that they'd like to discuss so they can simply accept the items for which there's unanimous support. Finkelman agreed, and no one seemed to object. There's a chance they might finish this process after all.

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