"Frack is Whack" and Other Highlights From Gas Drilling Task Force's Public Hearing

At last night's Gas Drilling Task Force public hearing at Dallas City, citizens' outcries ranged from polite thank-yous to pleas for tighter restrictions all the way to full-on verbal assaults that made fracking sound like the onset of The Apocalypse. Several of the people who spoke at the task force's first public hearing in August took the mic once again last night, tweaking their arguments for or against drilling. The task force's recommendations to council are as big a mystery now as they were then, though the group's expertise has been honed by more than 30 hours of presentations from drilling experts.

A young, mostly college-aged crowd lined the back wall and sat in the not-quite-packed audience with signs that read "We can't drink money" and "Frack is whack." A few of them spoke out against drilling. They were respectful, for the most part, quietly holding the signs.

Drilling industry proponents asked the task force to balance the needs of everyone in the room. Perhaps most notably, a representative from Chief Oil & Gas, the company currently in the process of obtaining permitting to drill because of a unique set of circumstances, said they've been the first company to drill in other cities, and they're comfortable being the first here. "An ordinance should not be overly restrictive," Kristi Gittins, vice president of Chief, told the task force, calling the city's current ordinance a "good one."

She added that the North Lake location on the verge of receiving permitting is an ideal location for exploration because pipelines are already in place. And who knows, she said, drilling in Dallas might not prove to be economically worthwhile -- but there's only one way to find out.

Task force chair Lois Finkelman clarified for the audience that the task force does not play a role in the permitting process.

Charles Yarbrough, vice president of rates and regulatory affairs at Atmos, took a turn at the mic and explained that Atmos runs both distribution and transmission pipelines, miles and miles of them, throughout Dallas. Yarbrough said he simply wanted to make people aware of that before ordinance language is crafted. He hopes the updated regulations will take into account the pipelines that go largely unnoticed so as not to have "any unintended adverse impacts" that affect Atmos customers. Duly noted.

Jennifer Land called the city's current prescribed setback distance of 300 feet a "mockery" of the citizenry. "Nobody wants to flee their home because it's full of drilling emissions," she said. "We are not hysterics like the gas industry wants to label us."

If Dallas is fracked, Symantha Raven said, "I'm going to be terrified to drink my water." She warned of the health risks of drilling, listing various forms of cancer. "They're going to die," she said of people close to drilling operations. "You're going to have to replace all those workers with more workers."

"Urban drilling can be an inconvenience ... but it is not deleterious to human health ... and it is certainly not a matter of life and death," said Arlington city council member Mel LeBlanc, who focused on the economic benefits drilling has provided his city.

"TIME!" people screamed when his four minutes were up. "Let's not be rude," Finkelman warned the crowd, many of whom opted for jazz hands after she asked several times that they stop clapping.

Next up was Steve Fort of Trinity East, one of several drilling companies that currently hold leases with the city. "We're people too," Fort said. "We want to protect our families too." Fort urged the task force to consider the economic impact of drilling. "We believe that there are large reserves of natural gas," he said, sounding more confident about that than representatives from both XTO and Chesapeake.

Fort called the 3,000-foot set-back distance recommended by a coalition of citizens "not a regulation" but an impediment.

Vocal proponents of the 3,000-foot set-back distance included Claudia Meyer, a loyal task force meeting attendee and Mountain Creek resident. "Preserve the environment," she said. "It's what people want when they choose a place to live."

"I'm hoping we can be a leader in the nation and set the gold standard," said Raymond Crawford, who helped shape the citizen recommendations.

After the meeting, a bunch of rumpled young people packed into an elevator, some still holding signs; one read, "Keep your money out of our water." A young man played guitar as he walked through the halls of City Hall. "Good job," one told another in their group. The drilling task force crowd had been unknowingly Occupied. The crew headed back to camp.

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Leslie Minora