Council Foregoes Public Hearings Before Leasing Public Land for Gas Drilling

On Wednesday, the council discussed a proposal for the city to lease city-owned land to private companies so they can drill for gas on public property. The proposal will allow gas drilling and wells within 300 feet of residential neighborhoods and public parks. In return, the private companies will give the city $32 million.

Have you heard about this? No? Perhaps because there weren’t any public hearings to discuss whether we, as a city, want to have drilling rigs and gas wells littering Dallas’ landscape.

Here are my objections with this entire issue:

First, no community input. When the council discussed an ordinance on gas drilling last Fall, I suggested we put one of the 150-foot gas drilling rigs out on the City Hall plaza and let residents come by and see what they think. I objected then, and object now, to the idea that we would do something like this without having public hearings. This is something we’re going to have to live with for decades, and we’re not asking residents what they think?

I just read an article in the Star-Telegram that pointed out the buyers’ remorse some Fort Worth residents are feeling over the city’s decision to drill for gas:

I do know that we didn’t ask enough questions at the beginning of this gung-ho gas drilling process, primarily because most of us simply didn’t know what questions to ask.

The new drilling techniques were to be minimally obtrusive, with the rigs only on-site for a handful of days and the finished wellheads basically out of sight or hardly noticeable….

Despite attempts by some companies to camouflage the destructiveness of natural gas drilling, we’ve already seen a terrible scarring of the land, with large swaths being cleared for access to rigs and the laying of miles of pipeline.

In several parts of town, I’m seeing the ugly industrial sites necessary to support this growing industry, where machinery like I’ve never seen has to be stored and maintained.

Large trucks are crowding and destroying streets that led to once-quiet neighborhoods. And many of us have just begun to learn that some of those massive mobile tanks are hauling waste water that we still haven’t figured out how to handle — whether to inject it into the ground in our own city or ship somewhere else to become someone else’s problem.

–”That upset feeling — was it something we swallowed? Barnett Shale” by Bob Ray Sanders (Fort Worth Star-Telgram, Dec. 9, 2007)

Second: I don’t like being railroaded. The City Manager told us if we didn’t approve the lease, we’d lose $20M from this year’s budget and another $14M from next year’s. What? How could staff have counted on this money when the council had not yet approved the drilling leases? When we had our council retreat last July and the gas drilling issue came up, both Mitchell Rasansky and I specifically instructed city staff NOT to count on this money because the council had not approved the gas drilling. We did not want to be in exactly the position we’re in now.

So here we are: staff puts the council over a barrel by including certain anticipated revenues in the city’s budget, despite the fact that the funding source for that revenue has not been approved by the council. The philosophy seems to be: “It is better to ask forgiveness than permission.” By including the gas lease funds in the budget prematurely, staff ensured that most of the council would have qualms about eliminating the revenue source, which would necessitate “budget cuts.” Then we’re told we’re in a rush to get the lease done, and we can’t possibly wait for public input. (Mitchell Rasansky wryly pointed out that the gas had been down there for a few million years; it could wait another couple of months.)

Third: If you’re under eighteen stop reading now, because I can’t think of a less crude way to say this: I’m tired of our city whoring itself out for a few measley bucks. There. I said it. I’ve been thinking that a lot, like when we decided it would be fabulous to put up ugly kiosks on tiny sidewalks all over town, for a pittance. Or every time we beg businesses to come to our city and give them tax breaks or other financial incentives out of the public coffers. Or when we give developers excessive zoning rights at the expense of residents/the environment/good design. We need to be more chaste and less desperate. We need to make our city attractive to businesses by making our city safer, improving our schools, and cleaning up/beautifying Dallas. We need to force new developments to provide generous sidewalks and use quality materials that will last. We need to protect our few natural assets like Timbercreek and the Trinity River.

Fourth: Ah, the tranquility of Dallas parks. Did I mention that the six-page list of addresses of leased property includes the Trinity River Park as well as Grauwyler Park and Bachman Lake Park? Oh, and Love Field, too. Makes sense, right? Airplanes, gas wells, parks, gas wells. Sure!

At the end of the day, I proposed that we postpone the issue 90 days while we hold neighborhood meetings and gather public input. We need to discuss this with Dallas residents. We need to talk about safety concerns, environmental impact, risk of water contamination, the future costs of possible environmental remediation.

Unfortunately, everyone except Councilmember Rasansky and I voted against getting public input before doing the leases. Those against the motion argued that each drilling site would require a public hearing and council approval, and that’s when residents would have their say. But that misses two key points: One, residents might like to have been consulted not just on individual gas wells, but on the overarching issue of whether they want gas drilling on public land in Dallas. Two, the council will NOT have the “absolute right” to refuse every drilling request. The drilling companies aren’t giving the city $34M to get absolutely nothing in return. We can’t turn down every single permit and not expect a lawsuit. And we can’t refuse a permit just because residents don’t like the idea of drilling near their homes. So we’ll be forced to do some drilling, somewhere.

One thought on “Council Foregoes Public Hearings Before Leasing Public Land for Gas Drilling

  1. Gas Drilling and Dallas’ Water Supply « Dallas City Councilmember Angela Hunt – District 14

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