Dallas Gas Drilling Task Force: Recommendations So Bad They Needed Police Protection

by Downwinders on February 29, 2012

It was the entirety of the last ten years of the Barnett Shale compressed, geologic-like, into one meeting. There were the traditional clean air allies melting into the woodwork when it came time to not only protect the air, but the water, and people affected by gas pollution. There was the Big Green, conflicted environmental group representative shuffling between voting for industry and with citizens. There was the transparent duplicity of public officials. There were the minority of steadfast Cassandras, trying to explain over and over again why putting a 25,000 tons-a-year polluting compressor station 500 feet away from a home is a bad idea. There were the angry residents on the outside looking-in, complaining that their voices were not being heard over the din of drilling rigs. And there was the industry, happy to lead a last-minute assault on all the previous protections citizens had won in prior meetings. In the end, the majority of Dallas gas drilling task force members decided they wanted the city to learn about the Shale the hard way. The way that rural Wise and Parker County residents have learned. The way that residents of Ft. Worth, Arlington, and Grand Prairie have learned – by experiencing the poisoning and industrialization of their communities up close and personal. It was truly hard to watch Chairwoman Lois Finkelman, in perhaps her last civic role for the City, transform herself from a long-time clean air advocate to someone who rode roughshod over recommendations that would make Dallas air dirtier, and DFW smog thicker. She voted with industry when it would otherwise would have lost, and abstained from voting when it meant citizens might win. But she often seemed so embarrassed by what was taking place that she appeared to almost gag in announcing the results of votes, or often didn’t bother to announce the results at all. Joining her was former Dallas County Judge, and green cement advocate, Margaret Keliher, who had previously argued that gas drilling in the Trinity Floodplain was OK because it had always been used as a dumping ground anyway. Even Dr. Ramon Alvarez with the Austin-based Environmental Defense Fund chimed in and helped industry roll back various protections depending on whether it was drilling in parks (for), or reducing the original setback from schools (against). But none of them matched the 9th circle of Hell soul-selling of Joan Walne, President of the Dallas Parks and Recreation Board (originally appointed by Council member Jerry Allen), who in almost consecutive sentences, first protested that she had, of course, never been in favor of allowing drilling on city park land, and then proceeded to offer a motion to do just that. As she began to do so, a handful of Occupy Dallas members stood up and began one of their “mic checks,” i.e. a call and response. Finkelman directed the police squad that was already lining the conference room wall in anticipation of such an outburst to please remove the People Who Were Talking Too Loudly and then led the whole task force membership in a hasty run out of the room and into a hallway like frightened little children. It as an embarrassing overreaction.They were followed by Downwinders Director Jim Schermbeck, equipped with a digital camera, to make sure no official business was being done while the rabble was being cleared. Awkward, but necessary as it turns out because that was the first instinct of a couple of industry reps before Finkelman reminded them they couldn’t talk shop in the hallway. Rabble cleared, and reconvening, the vote was taken, and Walne’s motion to allow drilling in parks, with council approval, passed 8 to 3. That’s when Schermbeck began Talking Too Loud in complaining that they had just rolled back a protection that had passed unanimously only two months earlier with no real reason for doing so other than industry’s complaint that prohibiting parks removed too many potential drilling sites. Apparently his arguments were so compelling that the police got caught up in the moment and failed to shuffle him out of the room as fast as Finkelman wanted. “Can you move more quickly to end the disruption,” she scolded the cops. He sat out the rest of the meeting watching it on Dallas City Hall TV at an undisclosed location (and for the record, had a very congenial talk about drilling in Dallas with the nice officer who escorted him out of the building) After that, it was one a steady whittling away of one protection after another. Instead of a solid 1000-foot buffer zone, or setback, for “protected uses” like homes, schools and parks, there is now a less protective sliding 500 to 1000 foot zone. Instead of the straight-ahead 300 foot property line-to- property line setback for business and offices, there is now a 300 foot setback from structure-to-structure, meaning you could be soon looking out your office window at a gas rig next door. And so forth. What does it say about the quality of this entire last-minute policy reversal when you know in advance that your decisions will be so unpopular as to require police protection? There were a few bright spots. There are now more “protected uses” like churches, and hospitals, and such…even though they’re less protected than they were when the meeting started. Thanks goes to Downwinders board member Cherelle Blazer, who fought valiantly on behalf of residents, as did attorney Terry Welch, and Dr. David Sterling of the UNT Health Science Center.  Also, to their credit, Finkelman and Keliher did bequeath an opportunity to begin looking at ways to address the huge amounts of Greenhouse Gas emissions produced by the gas industry at all phases of production by supporting a “suggestion” to the council to explore the issue. While short of an official recommendation, this does give the Council a chance to clean-up the gas industry the way it cleaned-up the cement industry with passage of the nation’s first green cement procurement policy in 2007.  Gas drilling is the Keystone Pipeline of Dallas. It’s the local in the “think globally, act locally” cliche. An innovative policy that would require gas companies to reduce as much GHG pollution as they generate in Dallas has the potential to be a huge incentive to reduce pollution of all kinds from the gas industry and other sources. This tantalizing possibility and all the rest of the Task Force recommendations now go to the council. There could be a vote as soon as April. This is going to be an issue where the margins are going to be 1 or 2 votes. We need your help as a Dallas citizen….. Now is the time to become active in this issue if you don’t want Dallas to suffer the same fate as its sister cities in the Shale. The Dallas Residents At Risk alliance is sponsoring a city-wide organizing meeting on Gas Drilling in Dallas on Tuesday March 27th, from 7 to 8 pm at the Center for Community Cooperation at 2900 Live Oak in Old East Dallas. Representatives from neighborhoods, civic groups, PTAs, and churches are invited to attend. We’re going to be laying out what issues we need to concentrate on and what strategies we need to pursue to win back the protections we must have for urban drilling in Dallas. Please come and plug-in to the largest and most important environmental fight in Dallas’ city limits since West Dallas residents rose up in revolt over inner city lead smelters in the 1980’s and 90’s. They did their part then. We need to do ours now. Only you can prevent this environmental disaster.

{ 0 comments… add one now }

Leave a Comment

Previous post:

Next post: