A Plan for Dallas’ Gas Drilling Taskforce

Cities across the country have been struggling to address the health, safety and environmental issues associated with a new gas drilling technique known as hydro-fracking, where large volumes of pressurized water, sand, and chemicals are injected deep into the ground to release natural gas trapped in rock.

Last month, the Dallas City Council agreed to delay a drilling permit vote until a city-appointed taskforce could review and revise the city’s drilling ordinance.  However, a taskforce proposal has not been forthcoming, and concerned residents have regularly voiced their frustration to the City Council about this delay.

Creating a gas drilling taskforce is a critical first step in evaluating the hazards that may be posed by hydro-fracking.  Just today, The New York Times issued a troubling report:

With hydrofracking, a well can produce over a million gallons of wastewater that is often laced with highly corrosive salts, carcinogens like benzene and radioactive elements like radium, all of which can occur naturally thousands of feet underground. Other carcinogenic materials can be added to the wastewater by the chemicals used in the hydrofracking itself.

While the existence of the toxic wastes has been reported, thousands of internal documents obtained by The New York Times from the Environmental Protection Agency, state regulators and drillers show that the dangers to the environment and health are greater than previously understood.

The documents reveal that the wastewater, which is sometimes hauled to sewage plants not designed to treat it and then discharged into rivers that supply drinking water, contains radioactivity at levels higher than previously known, and far higher than the level that federal regulators say is safe for these treatment plants to handle.

Given the growing evidence of risks associated with hydro-fracking, the Dallas City Council must move swiftly to address the safety of this practice.  To move this issue forward, last week I proposed to my colleagues the formation of a Gas Drilling Taskforce, outlining its composition and responsibilities based on best practices and lessons learned from other North Texas cities.  Among other things, the Gas Drilling Taskforce will be responsible for proposing revisions to the city’s gas drilling ordinance and forwarding their recommendations to the Dallas City Council.

The health and welfare of Dallas residents is paramount.  Since time is short (the vote on one gas drilling permit has been reset for October), I will be working with my colleagues to implement the Gas Drilling Taskforce as quickly as possible.