There's Another Gas Drilling Public Hearing Tomorrow. So Where Is City Heading, Anyway?

As chair of the city's gas drilling task force, Lois Finkelman has a pretty tough job, directing task force meetings, guiding discussions, fielding calls and emails from concerned citizens. (Did we mentioned she doesn't get paid? Strictly voluntary.). And with a public hearing coming up tomorrow, the task force's deliberation process about to begin and a request earlier this week for further council briefings on the issue, it's not about to get any easier, Mayor Mike Rawlings ought to give the former council member a key to the city. Or, at least, free Pizza Hut for life. Something.

Anyway. On Monday, with the final public hearing looming, Finkelman briefed the council's Transportation and Environment Committee on the task force's progress, presenting a slide show overview of Barnett Shale drilling and the litany of concerns the group is addressing as it crafts recommendations for a new city ordinance.

Linda Koop, chair of the committee, thanked Finkelman for her dedication, acknowledging, "I know it's been lots of work." Finkelman began by saying that the task force's original mission, to make recommendations -- including zoning and permitting requirements while also taking into account air and water issues -- barely scratches the surface. She said that coming up with recommendations in the two remaining meetings after Thursday's upcoming public hearing is an "optimistic" goal, but that they have December as a safety net.

"Our goal is to be done by the end of the year," Finkelman said. "It's really hard to predict how easily the decision-making process will go."

While task force members have been relatively collegial, it's nearly time for opinions to be vocalized as recommendations begin taking shape. In her overview of the drilling process, Finkelman addressed the issue of injection wells, disposal sites for the "produced" water used in fracking. "Typically, in this area, [the frack water goes] into injection wells."

"If we don't allow injection wells in the city we have to truck it elsewhere," added Kris Sweckard, director of the Office of Environmental Quality.

With injection wells, Finkelman said, there is a list of concerns including whether they can lead to earthquakes, especially if drilled improperly. "There's not a lot of clear scientific data," she said, adding that there's contradictory data on just about every aspect of drilling -- which, of course, doesn't make the task force's job any easier.

Koop asked that they make arrangements for the entire city council to be briefed on the subject so they can better understand the issues faced by the task force, their methodology and have a framework in which to place their upcoming recommendations.

Sheffie Kadane had his own thoughts (or hopes) about the task force's methodology, "I think they're looking at it as: 'What do we need to do to get these wells drilled,'" he said. He sees the goal of the task force as finding ways to create "safe wells," he said, which he believes is a good goal to have. He added, "I'm glad to hear that your group ... is thinking about disposal wells."

Finkelman stopped to clarify that the task force's list of concerns is inclusive. The fact that disposal wells are a concern does not mean that they are leaning toward a recommendation to either allow or ban them. It's all still nebulous.

"You're gonna have trucks after trucks after trucks," Kadane said, referring to the fact that without disposal wells waste water must be transported elsewhere. "You're talking a lot of hauling."

A short while later, Kadane clarified what he said about injection wells. "I wasn't insinuating that you were hedging towards that," he said.

Council member Sandy Greyson asked Finkelman if the task force had discussed the economic impact of drilling, to which Finkelman responded with a version of what's become an oft-repeated line: There is a "general feel that it's not part of our role to determine whether this is economically beneficial."

So, again: Tomorrow at 6 p.m. is the task force's final public hearing -- always a tough day of work as the group of volunteers holds court as the public's verbal punching bags. But tomorrow evening marks the home stretch in this process -- once citizens voice exactly how they feel (and then some, we're sure), the task force will, in the coming weeks of deliberation, reveal what they really think drilling in Dallas should look like. Game on.

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Leslie Minora