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The Frackers and the Environmentalists Will Square Off at Dallas City Hall This Week

This was all supposed to be wrapped up months ago. The City Council formed the Gas Drilling Task Force more than a year ago, which was initially scheduled to wrap things up and have a final recommendation by November. A handful of issues -- proper setbacks, whether to allow drilling in parks and floodplains -- pushed the task force's final recommendation to February. The same issues prompted Mayor Mike Rawlings to delay a final decision by the City Council pending two more briefings. The first of those is set for Wednesday.

The format will be simple: Councilman Scott Griggs has picked attorney Terry Welch to represent environmental groups, while councilman Sheffie Kadane has chosen Ed Ireland, executive director at the Barnett Shale Energy Education Council, to pitch for the gas industry. The two will duke it in an hour-long, no-holds-barred duel of PowerPoint presentations, which were posted to the city's website on Friday.

The sides are familiar. Welch argues that the setback from residential areas should be 1,500 feet. Any closer and property values begin to drop, not to mention that the scientific community isn't quite sure of the health effects of living next door to a fracking operation and that "doubt should be resolved in favor of public health." Besides, most drillers will likely request variances to the setback, as a survey of the 19 approved drilling sites in Flower Mound demonstrates.

As for drilling in parks and floodplain, both ideas are dumb, Welch argues. Parkland is a limited and valuable commodity that would be irreparably damaged by allowing drilling. Floodplains have a tendency to be covered from time to time with large volumes of water that "may result in release of undisclosed hazardous chemicals, along with significant amounts of salt and hydrocarbons, into water channels" if drilling is allowed there, all of which poses potential health and safety risks.

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Ireland thinks those setbacks sound too aggressive. Nearly 20,000 gas wells have been drilled in the Barnett Shale and have proved "safe and protective of human health and the environment." The vast majority -- 99.51 percent -- of fracking liquid is sand and water. The rest of those "undisclosed hazardous chemicals" are mostly things you can find in your kitchen cabinet or makeup drawer. And just look at all that money. Those gas wells have produced 110,000 jobs and $11 billion per year in economic activity. The city of Fort Worth has received nearly $182 million from leasing city-owned lands for drilling -- a nice chunk of change, particularly in in a down economy. So, setbacks should be set at 600 feet or less.

Ireland's PowerPoint doesn't delve into the wisdom of drilling in parks or floodplains but stresses that in terms of air quality, noise, water usage, and physical footprint, gas wells have proven to be unobtrusive.

Those dueling PowerPoints are all very exciting, but you'll have to be there Wednesday at 1 p.m. in council chambers to witness the "smackdown" promised by Dallas Drilling.

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