It's been more than a year since a task force sent the Dallas City Council its recommendations for retooling the city's gas drilling ordinance. But the first step toward updating city code will finally be taken at the Plan Commission. The city attorney's office will brief commissioners at this Thursday's meeting. That's where the rules governing how the city develops its natural gas -- generating no shortage of controversy and headache for prospective drillers -- will begin to take shape.
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It was only three months ago that commissioners voted to deny drilling permits to Trinity East, which had paid the city nearly $20 million for the right to drill along the Trinity River. The fact that the city council had yet to take up task force recommendations that would prohibit Trinity East's proposed wells was a sticking point for commissioners like Paul Ridley.
There was no small amount of pressure bearing down on the commission. A rejection here meant the council would need a super-majority to approve the permits -- a feat it couldn't achieve with the old council or its new incarnation. Mayor Mike Rawlings warned that the city could face a lawsuit for breach of contract. Meanwhile, Jim Schutze got his hands on a rumored-but-heretofore-unseen letter between city manager Mary Suhm and Trinity East, offering to grease the driller's path to approval, sparking howls of outrage from drilling opponents and council members Scott Griggs and the outgoing Angela Hunt.
That certainly didn't help Trinity East's case. But a denial at the Plan Commission presented an insurmountable hurdle. For a time at least, the driller was in limbo. And despite the protestations of council members Scott Griggs and the outgoing Angela Hunt, there was little interest in putting the permits to a council vote right before the elections.
Beginning with Thursday's Plan Commission meeting, a new council will take up its predecessor's work and mold a new drilling ordinance. As natural gas prices continue their slow-but-steady upward trajectory, you can bet Trinity East will be watching too.