City Council chambers erupted in applause Thursday afternoon as the Plan Commission voted to deny controversial drilling permits to natural gas producer Trinity East. It was a victory for drilling opponents, to be sure; it means the permits will take 12 votes to get past the City Council, instead of a simple majority of eight council votes.
Opponents to drilling along the Trinity River in northwest Dallas won for a few reasons. They won because they show up in force, meeting after meeting; because a majority of the Plan Commission is queasy about approving permits on parkland and in a floodplain that would require exemptions and special hearings that have yet to occur; and because it just doesn't think natural gas wells comport with the golf course and the soccer complex next door.
But Trinity East isn't about to roll over. It can't just walk away from the $19 million or so it paid the city of Dallas for its drilling leases from the city. In fact, as of Friday afternoon, the indie operator filed its appeal of the denial. It isn't completely out of moves yet.
"We want to go to the [city] council in April." says Dallas Cothrum, Trinity East's rep before the city. "They obviously can delay it, but we're going to ask them to."
The City Council can delay action on Trinity East's drilling permits, and it's a good bet they probably will with elections coming up in May. And the state requires a hearing before alternative uses to city parkland, where Trinity East wants to drill, can be green-lit. This seriously could drag on into the fall.
For its part, Trinity East's principals remain flabbergasted, if not by a defeat at the Plan Commission on Thursday, then at the very least by the general opposition that materializes every time the company appears on an agenda. There will never be, its managers say, a more low-impact operation than theirs. So what gives?
"The reason we chose this area is, it's most conducive to drilling. It's away from residential, it's away from populated areas," Trinity East President Steve Fort told Unfair Park on Friday. "The opposition wants us to move. Where are we going to move, a neighborhood? Because that's the only other thing available around here. We're in the best spot, and they always say, 'Why don't they move it somewhere else?' Well, I guarantee you, there will never be a spot they'll approve.
"They have two things: Move it somewhere else, and let's wait for the next study to come out. That's their mantra."
Trinity East is tight-lipped about what comes if they lose at City Council or if the coming election doesn't change the council's complexion. Mayor Mike Rawlings has said potential litigation is another reason why the city should issue the permits. Trinity East won't countenance the question, but it doesn't look like a small operator is going to leave that kind of money on the table either.