Gas Drilling and Dallas’ Water Supply

Gas drilling is slowly creeping into the Dallas area and as I said nearly three years ago, I continue to be concerned about the possible environmental and health dangers associated with this industry.

Recent news has highlighted the dangers of gas drilling and drinking water contamination:

XTO Energy, a subsidiary of Exxon Mobil, is under investigation by the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) after a 13,000 gallon hydraulic fracturing fluid spill at XTO Energy’s natural gas drilling site in Penn Township, Lycoming County, PA.

The spill was first discovered last week by a DEP inspector who found a valve had been left open on a 21,000-gallon fracking fluid tank, discharging fluid off the well pad into local waterways, threatening a nearby cattle herd that had to be fenced off from the contaminated pasture. Exxon/XTO has not provided an explanation on why the valve was left open

“This spill was initially estimated at more than 13,000 gallons by the company and has polluted an unnamed tributary to Sugar Run and a spring,” said DEP Northcentral Regional Director Nels Taber. “There are also two private drinking water wells in the vicinity that will be sampled for possible impacts.”

DEP’s sampling confirmed elevated levels of conductivity and salinity in the spring and unnamed tributary, clear indications that the fracking fluid was present in the waterways.

The Huffington Post, Nov. 22, 2010

XTO has requested several drilling permits from the City of Dallas, and I agree with Dallas City Councilmember Neumann that we need to defer these requests until an independent taskforce can fully vet the safety issues involved.

More immediately troubling, however, is that a company named Keystone wants a variance from the Town of Flower Mound to drill less than 500 feet from Lake Grapevine, a source for Dallas’ drinking water:

Dallas Water Utilities officials are concerned about contamination over a request to drill for natural gas beside Grapevine Lake in Flower Mound.

The lake is a major drinking water source for The City of Dallas, Highland Park, Grapevine and other customers of Dallas Water Utilities including Flower Mound.

Flower Mound rules forbid drilling within 500 feet of an environmentally sensitive area.

A variance request pending with the Town of Flower Mound asks to allow drilling much closer in this case.

“It’s all in the drainage area that goes into Lake Grapevine,” said Dallas Water Utilities Assistant Director Charles Stringer.

“So it’s of concern to us whether it’s one foot or 500 feet. And we just don’t want to see any brine or any other waste products coming from the well, entering in the water supply. That’s our main concern,” Stringer said.

Gas wells dot the western side of The Metroplex but Stringer said this is the first one proposed so close to a City of Dallas drinking water reservoir.

Ken Kaltoff, NBC5, Nov. 25, 2010

As noted by DallasDrilling.com, a public hearing will be held on Wednesday, December 15th at 6:30 p.m. before the Town of Flower Mound Oil and Gas Board of Appeals.  Keystone has requested numerous variances from current regulations, including its proximity to Lake Grapevine and its location in a FEMA floodplain.

I plan to attend the meeting, and have asked city staff to take whatever steps necessary to protect Dallas’ water supply.

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