Flower Mound Denies Gas Drilling Near Lake Grapevine

Last night, I attended a meeting of the Flower Mound Oil and Gas Board of Appeals.  One of the two public hearings of the evening involved a request by Keystone Exploration for variances for a hydraulic fracturing gas well just 220 feet from Lake Grapevine, one of the lakes Dallas uses for drinking water.  I went to speak against the request.

The meeting started at 6:30 p.m. with the other public hearing item up first (a request by another drilling company for a variance to drill within 1000 feet of a school).  The five member panel (with one alternate) asked excellent questions and were very engaged.  One thing that I found troubling about the company’s presentation was that their attorney kept threatening to sue the city and the panel members individually if the city didn’t grant their variance.

When the hearing was opened to public comment, many residents voiced their opposition with the proposed variance and dismay with the intimidation tactics.  Opposition representatives put on a very persuasive Powerpoint.  One very thoughtful gentleman even proposed the panel go into closed session to get advice from their attorney due to the company’s threats of litigation.  Interestingly, the panel did so, then returned.

One board member moved to approve the variance, and I was disheartened, but then no one seconded the motion, so I thought it had died for lack of a second.  Nope, another member seconded it.  It seemed to me the panel had been cowed by the threats of a lawsuit.  But wait — then the chair called the question, and each board member one by one voted “no.”  I guess it was some parliamentary procedural rule that requires them to make a motion to approve, then vote it down.  I don’t really know, but given the facts laid out at the hearing, I think they made the right call.

Our public hearing didn’t start until around 10 p.m. or so.  During Keystone’s presentation, they requested numerous variances, not the least of which was one to let them drill within 500 feet of a lake.  They claimed they would take safety precautions to make sure the chemicals used in the fracking process weren’t leaked into Lake Grapevine (220 feet away from the drill site, with land sloping towards the lake).

I had a chance to speak around 11:15 p.m., and I spent my three minutes urging the panel to deny Keystone’s variance request.  (At my request, the Dallas Water Utility also sent a letter to the board cautioning against granting the variance.)

I pointed out that Dallas uses Lake Grapevine for drinking water, and provides water to 23 suburbs, including the Town of Flower Mound.  (The city of Grapevine and the Park Cities water utility use also use the lake.)  While I appreciated that the fact that the company profiting from the gas drilling claimed they’d put in place various safety measures, there have been too many incidents across the country where fracking has contaminated drinking water.  Numerous levels of government are currently studying the safety of fracking — all the way from the EPA (whose study is to be completed in 2012) to several states, as well as local municipalities like Fort Worth.  So there is no assurance that the measures the company proposed will indeed be sufficient to protect Lake Grapevine.  Water in North Texas is too precious a resource to risk contamination.  I left around 11:30 p.m. and the meeting was still going on, with opponents stepping up to the mic.

This morning I was pleased to learn that the board unanimously denied the variance, noting that they were uncomfortable with the site’s close proximity to the lake and didn’t believe the proposed berm was enough to prevent floodwaters from carrying chemicals to the lake.  Thank you, Flower Mound!