(Dallas)—Scouring Texas Railroad Commission paperwork, Dallas residents have unearthed a previously undisclosed partnership between the City of Dallas and gas company Trinity East involving an gas well that experienced a cement casing failure in 2009 near the Trinity River in Irving.
According to documents submitted by the City of Dallas and Trinity East – working under the name of “Expro Energy” – Dallas became one of five lessors of a gas well located on University of Dallas property in February 2009, while Trinity East/Expro became the lessee. Sometime that summer, the cement casing of the well “parted” at approximately 2800 feet below the surface. It’s not known what environmental damage, if any, was caused by this failure so close to the Trinity River.
“We spent considerable time and money trying to correct this problem…. We expect to move back on and make another attempt to complete this well sometime in the future,” wrote Trinity East/Expro representative Jerry Eslew to the RRC in February of 2010.
Cement casing is installed around the drill pipe in order to form a barrier blocking methane, brackish water, or drilling chemicals from migrating up to contaminate drinking water aquifers above the well. But the cement doesn’t go all the way down the well itself, and errors, mishaps or geological traps can leave channels running through the cement.
Despite that incident, Dallas remains linked to Trinity East/Expro in Irving as one of 26 lessors to another well permit in the same area at the University of Dallas that got approved in May of 2010. However, that well has been reported producing almost no gas.
Trinity East is in the middle of a hard-fought battle to get approval of three gas drilling and production permits at sites along the Trinity River floodplain in Northwest Dallas, including two that are located in City of Dallas park land. On February 7th, the Dallas Observer published a “secret agreement” signed by Dallas City Manager Mary Suhm in 2008 that pledged city staff support to get those permits approved.
Citizens found indications that Trinity East/Expro may be waiting to open at least one gas well in Irving until the City of Dallas approves the permit of the company’s proposed “Luna Vista Processing Plant,” located a short distance away.
“The subject well (UD LEASE, WELL NO. 1-H) is currently closed in (sic) waiting on a gas pipeline prior to stimulation and construction of a production facility,” according to a February 29th, 2009 letter from Trinity East/Expro to the Railroad Commission.
Trinity East representatives have repeatedly said that the refinery and compressor station, just 600 feet west the City’s giant Elm Fork Athletic Complex, would only take gas from the three city of Dallas well leases currently under consideration for permitting by the City Council. But the company owns wells in Farmers Branch as well as the ones in Irving, and its representatives stated in an interview with the Dallas Observer that its “master plan” depends on Dallas being a hub.
Now neighborhood and environmental groups think they know what that means – a nexus of pipelines converging on a refinery operation and compressor station that keeps growing as more and more wells are connected to it, including at least one that’s already partially owned by the City of Dallas.
“What citizens have uncovered shows there’s a much broader and deeper relationship between Trinity East and the City of Dallas than anyone at City Hall has admitted up to now. This news points to a real conflict of interest between Dallas the gas well operator, and Dallas the municipal regulator,” said Jim Schermbeck of the local clean air group Downwinders at Risk, one of the organizations involved in the Dallas Residents at Risk alliance whose members combed the online and regional files of the Railroad Commission to obtain the documents.
Included in the packet of new-found information about the Irving wells released by the alliance today was a list of questions it says should be posed by Dallas City Council members to the City Manager as part of her scheduled Wednesday briefing to the Council on the Trinity East permits.
They include inquires about whether the Council was notified by the City Manager of the Irving leases with Trinity East/Expro, whether any royalties have been paid to the City by the company, and what the City knows about any environmental impact of the cement casing failure near the Trinity River.
“Today’s disclosures raise many new questions that should be answered by the City Manager, in addition to putting the recent actions of the city on behalf of these permits in context,” said Schermbeck. “
In particular, he thought the City Manager should be held accountable for withholding information about the City’s partnership in a Trinity East well, in addition to the 2009 casing failure, at a time when the City of Dallas is considering approving Trinity East permits for new gas well sites.
“It’s tantamount to a judge not disclosing that he owns a business with the defendant whose case he’s hearing.”