Even with two seats in limbo, the complexion of the new Dallas City Council looks decidedly unfavorable for Trinity East, the would-be fracker from Fort Worth that paid the city millions for the rights to its natural gas. Because the Plan Commission voted against the company's drilling permits, four "no" votes on the council is enough to deny Trinity East's appeal of the commission vote. It looks like the opposition gets to four easily.
See also: Trinity East's Vapor Chase
Counting noses, there's Scott Griggs, a stalwart opponent of drilling, who defeated Delia Jasso for a redrawn District 1. You've got Adam Medrano, newly elected to District 2, who has said without equivocation that he doesn't believe in drilling urban areas. Carolyn Davis, just handily re-elected, has also opposed drilling in the city. Sandy Greyson is considered a likely "no" vote, as is Monica Alonzo in District 6. Philip Kingston, Angela Hunt's handpicked successor in District 14, is looking strong against Bobby Abtahi in a run-off. My, how the balance has shifted.
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"I think the past year's public debate has had a profound influence ... so that the Council has shifted from hardcore, unquestioning support to something less than that," says Jim Schermbeck of Downwinders at Risk.
It's a treacherous road ahead for Trinity East. I sat down with its managers for a recent cover story and discussed their travails in City Hall. It isn't just the $19 million the company paid the city in 2008 that's on the line. Trinity East President Steve Fort said they've invested four times that, leasing up acreage across Dallas County, from Irving to Farmers Branch. Dallas, by far its largest mineral owner, is the centerpiece in a plan to develop the easternmost edge of the Barnett Shale. The city's block of contiguous acreage, they said, is what makes the enterprise profitable. Without it the company may fold, their lobbyist at City Hall, Dallas Cothrum, has indicated.
Griggs and Hunt, who was term-limited, requested an up-or-down vote in April, so the governing body that had expended so much energy on the issue could make the call before elections changed the makeup of the council in unpredictable ways. Even with Hunt out of the equation, the defeat of the drilling permits looks all but guaranteed. Question is, if Trinity East is toast in Dallas, will Mayor Mike Rawlings' much ballyhooed fear of a lawsuit pan out, or will the company wash its hands of the city and limp back to Fort Worth?
I reached out to Cothrum for his thoughts on the new City Council, and will update accordingly when I hear from him.