This Morning, Council Members Took First Look at Gas Drilling Task Force Hopefuls

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Last Friday, Robert offered a first look at some of the big names that had applied to sit on the city's gas drilling task force: Margaret Keliher, Royce West II, Betty Culbreath, the train-bedeviled Chico Grimes and more.

This morning, Linda Koop and the handful of other members on the council's ad hoc gas drilling task force nominating committee had their first chat about all 67 applications, on the way to narrowing the list to a more manageable size. Though a few candidates showed up in person, the committee kept its business within the horseshoe -- just a quick conversation on anything that jumped out from an application.

By tomorrow, each of the eight members will narrow the list to 15 nominations, ranked in order of preference -- five each for industry reps, citizens and environmentalists, and subject-matter specialists. The top 15 vote-getters will be back next week for live interviews, as they jockey for one of nine task force seats. "It is not a perfect methodology, but it was the best we could come up with," Koop said.

Joining Koop on the committee were Pauline Medrano, Angela Hunt, Ann Margolin and Carolyn Davis, plus lame-duck councilmen Ron Natinsky and Dave Neumann, a point that's drawn complaints from gas-drilling activists. Committee member Sheffie Kadane sent in his nominations before leaving town for a few days, but Koop led the rest in a leisurely walk through the stack of task force applications -- plenty from lawyers, a few from academics and a couple from activists.

"What I was really hoping for are some folks who have been directly impacted by gas drilling in the Barnett Shale," Hunt told Unfair Park after the meeting -- and while there weren't many of them among the applications, Hunt said there'd still be time to hear from them later.

Mountain Creek activist Ed Meyer was one that caught Hunt's eye, for just that reason. "I keep looking for folks who are actually dealing with this in their neighborhood, and I thought it was interesting he said the frack pond is a few feet from his home," she said.

Cherelle Blazer, once with Environmental Defense Fund and now with a group called You Can't Live In the Woods, is another who did mention direct experience living around the industry -- near a drilling rig in Mansfield a few years ago. Blazer got attention from Hunt and Koop because of her advanced degree in environmental science, and references from regional EPA chief Al Armendariz and Downwinders At Risk's Jim Schermbeck.

Most of all, though, there were lawyers -- at least three from environmental firm Guida, Slavich & Flores alone.

Davis said she was especially interested in candidates with close ties to their neighborhoods, even if they weren't experts on gas drilling science -- and there were plenty of applicants whose qualifications didn't blow the council away. Koop noted that Chester Vaughn used all caps in his application. George Palmer, she read aloud, "is a document specialist."

And then there's Royce West II, who "is a citizen and just interested in being involved," Koop said, though he did come with references from Mayor Dwaine Caraway, County Judge Clay Jenkins and Dallas County prosecutor Nigel Redmond.

There were more familiar names on the list too, like "certified rigger" Vernon Franko, who Koop described as "more of a hands-on technical person." (Other members mentioned that, by the way, he'd also run for Hunt's council seat last election, to which she added simply, "He's a lovely man.") Others included Laura Fiffick, former director of the city's office of environmental quality, and Jim Graham, former World Cup Dallas bid committee chairman, former Friends of Fair Park chariman, and, right, president and chairman of Palo Petroleum.

All applicants were asked to disclose their ties to the industry. Some were investors in oil and gas companies, one belonged to a church he said had leased its mineral rights, and some, like Trinity East Energy president D. Stephen Fort, had very close ties to the industry indeed. Hunt said she was "concerned" to see Fort among the candidates, given his obvious interest in opening our city-owned land to drilling. "He won't be among my top three," she said.

The committee seemed keen, though, on putting Ed Ireland, head of the Barnett Shale Energy Education Council, in one of the three seats for industry reps. Lois Finkelman, who'll head the task force when it's up and running, said she'd just met Ireland at a meeting at the regional EPA office yesterday. "He comes from the industry side very clearly," Finkelman said. "He was smart, bright, intelligent. He did admit some of the problems in the industry. He was pretty open about that."

Finkelman told council members she's planning on holding the task force's first meeting sometime in July, after the city council votes on the final task force lineup on June 22. For now, committee members have a day to go over their choices before turning in their 15 nominees. (Davis turned in her sheet at the end of the meeting.) Then, remaining candidates for the task force will drop by for interviews with the committee next Tuesday and Thursday.

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