Council Approves Gas Drilling Taskforce Members

Yesterday, the Dallas City Council approved the members of the city’s gas drilling taskforce, which will evaluate the environmental and safety concerns related to urban gas drilling and craft an ordinance to recommend to the Council.

Six months ago, it didn’t look like we were going to get a taskforce.  Luckily, after some discussion and persuasion, the Council agreed that a taskforce was necessary.  So after debate, we agreed on the composition:

  • 3 subject-matter experts;
  • 3 environmentalists OR citizens affected by the issue;
  • 3 representatives of the industry OR people with experience working in the industry such as oil & gas attorneys;
  • 1 chair (former councilmember Lois Finkelman);
  • 1 Park Board representative (unfortunately, much of the public land leased for gas drilling is parkland)

The selection committee was chaired by Linda Koop and included councilmembers Neumann, Natinsky, Medrano, Davis, Kadane, Margolin, and me.

Councilmember Koop did a great job ensuring the application and selection process was open and transparent — posting the application online and encouraging the public to apply (as opposed to a closed process where interviewees had to be nominated by councilmembers).

A little over a month ago, we had an open call for applications.  After receiving 68 applications, we narrowed down the field to 18 interviews.  At the request of then-councilmember-elect Scott Griggs and Councilmember Delia Jasso, we added John McCall, an Oak Cliff resident, to the list of interviewees, making it 19.

After interviewing everyone, each councilmember voted for their nine picks, and that was tallied to get the nine taskforce members.  There was a tie for one of the environmental/citizen positions (Louis McBee and John McCall), and at Scott Griggs’ request we selected John McCall.

Finally, the council had to vote to approve the taskforce.  The vote was originally scheduled for our last voting meeting of the council term (last week), but at the request of then-councilmember-elect Scott Griggs, we moved the vote to our Inaugural meeting so that he could participate.

Yesterday the Council voted to approve the recommendation of the selection committee.

Councilmember Griggs had proposed adding a person from the Mountain Creek area since it is most affected by this issue due to its place above the Barnett Shale natural gas formation.

I agree with that sentiment, and wish it had been made earlier in the process so they could have been included in our original 9-member selection rather than added as a proposed 10th at the end.  Unfortunately, there were not enough votes on the council to add only one person.  If we had added another citizen/environmentalist, the majority of the council also wanted to add another industry representative (“for balance”).  The selected taskforce is very well-balanced and isn’t too industry-heavy, and if we began deviating from the selection process that the council had agreed on for several months, we risked a pro-industry taskforce.

In the end, I’m very pleased with the members on the taskforce.  They are:

SUBJECT MATTER EXPERTS

  • Former Dallas County Judge Margaret Keliher, who now servers as executive director of Texas Business for Clean Air (they fought the region’s coal plants)
  • Terry Welch, an attorney who advises cities in drafting strong gas drilling ordinances
  • Dr. David Sterling, chairman of the Department of Environmental and Occupational Health at the University of North Texas Health Science Center

BUSINESS AND INDUSTRY REPS

  • Professor Bruce Bullock, director of the Maguire Energy Institute at Southern Methodist University
  • David Biegler, chairman and CEO of Southcross Energy Group
  • Pat Shaw, an oil and gas attorney who has represented both landowners and gas drillers in crafting gas leases

ENVIRONMENTALISTS/CITIZENS

  • Cherelle Blazer, a Yale-educated scientist and director of the environmental group You Can’t Live in the Woods
  • John McCall, an Oak Cliff attorney and past president of the Oak Cliff Conservation League
  • Ramon Alvarez, a senior scientist at the Environmental Defense Fund
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