In Dallas and Forth Worth, the Ongoing Balancing Act by Gas-Drilling Task Forces

On opposite sides of the legal teeter-totter over gas-drilling, citizen protection and drilling flexibility weigh heavily, with a city's gas drilling ordinance at the center -- trying, at least in theory, to find balance between the two. It's happened in Forth Worth and other small cities. And next week, Dallas's task force will comb through the details of how those cities are tackling the issue, as it works toward eventually telling Dallas City Hall where it should fall in the spectrum of regulation.

The task force kicked off its mission in July with a presentation from Rick Trice, Fort Worth's assistant director of Planning and Development, who gave a rundown of how the city handles drilling. But just a month later Fort Worth council members began questioning their ordinance, raising the volume about possibly retooling it. Now the Fort Worth city council is planning a public hearing and a vote on revisions proposed by city staff working with the city attorney's office. The public hearing is scheduled for October 18, and the council vote is penciled in on October 25.

Trice told us yesterday that Fort Worth is working to balance the interests of mineral rights owners with those of other citizens impacted by drilling.

"That's been the balance all along," he said. The Fort Worth task force met throughout 2008, and the city's drilling ordinance was implemented in 2009. But now that drilling has been hot and heavy in the area for some time, the city is considering tighter regulation as it searches for a better balance.

"We're making it harder for minerals to be developed by the operator," Trice said of the proposed revisions to Fort Worth's current ordinance. But, he said, "We don't want to inadvertently adopt something that prevents [drilling] altogether."

Meanwhile, Dallas's own potential legal issues cropped up last week for the first time since the Dallas drilling task force began meeting. Task force member David Biegler brought up the city's current leases, which are on hold until the city ordinance revisions are nailed down. If the Dallas ordinance is so tight that it's prohibitive, the city could potentially face a lawsuit over the $30-plus million it collected and has spent since signing the lease agreements. Task force chair Lois Finkelman said at the first meeting, and repeated last week, that it is not the Dallas drilling task force's responsibility to consider the implications of their recommendations.

"There's a line out there somewhere," Trice said. The Fort Worth revisions streamline the rules, closing loopholes and allowing fewer exceptions. Here are some highlights (Read more here):

  • Any pad site would require a Multiple Well Pad Site Permit before any well is drilled. This is instead of a less restrictive single well permit.
  • The moratorium on saltwater disposal wells in Fort Worth would be lifted and the practice regulated. Currently, wastewater is trucked out of the city, which congests roads with truck traffic. The new rules would require that discarded frack water be injected into the Ellenberger formation, which is deeper than the Barnett Shale.
  • Another revision would require that a broader swath of residents be notified that drilling is about to take place.
  • Following the city's air quality study, the suggested revisions also include the implementation of the best practices in emissions controls.

On a related note, the Fort Worth Chamber of Commerce this morning sent out press release announcing the results of a Barnett Shale economic study commissioned by the Chamber. The controversial Perryman Group, which conducted the study, estimates that the last decade of Barnett drilling resulted in $65.4 billion in "output (gross product) for the [North Texas] region, and $80.7 billion in output for the state." The study "estimated the 2011 total effect of Barnett Shale drilling to include $11.1 billion in annual output and 100,268 jobs in the [North Texas] region."

Food for thought as the Dallas task force begins its deliberation in the coming weeks.

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