Dallas Drilling Update: It’s All About Holding Mayor Rawlings to His Word Now

by jim on October 24, 2013


“I am personally opposed to urban oil and gas drilling in Dallas.

To paraphrase Ecclesiastes, there is a place for everything under heaven, and I don’t think that place for drilling is in Dallas, in an environment like this.

We continue to grow, and there are generally too many unknowns in respect to urban drilling and its effects on our community’s health and safety. This city can be picky about what type of growth we have.

To that end, I will be supporting the efforts of our CPC on new gas drilling ordinances, to make sure the standards are such to ensure the safety of our citizens.”

– Dallas Mayor Mike Rawlings

August 28th, 2013

Statement before City Council vote on the Trinity East gas drilling and production Special Use Permits

On his way to vote in favor of allowing gas drilling in Dallas, the Mayor of North Texas' largest city seemingly endorsed a perpetual moratorium on gas drilling in Dallas. 

And even as he endorsed a moratorium on gas drilling in Dallas, the Mayor also endorsed a City Plan Commission draft ordinance on gas drilling that still allows for it to take place, albeit under very selective conditions.

So which words from that August 28th declaration do we hold the Mayor to when the new gas ordinance comes up for a Council vote?

"I will be supporting the efforts of our CPC on new gas drilling ordinances"

That's all you need to know. There is no qualification there, no balance between the CPC draft and something else. Just full-throated endorsement of the draft, as is. Make him live up to this support in the form of a simple up-or-down vote on the entire ordinance and you've got one of the toughest new templates for how to regulate gas drilling in the state of Texas.

Forget about the first part. Even if you want a moratorium on drilling in Dallas, that's not the issue that will be up for a vote. Nor is there the slightest chance that such an option will appear as an alternative to the approval of a new gas ordinance, no matter how strongly Mayor Rawlings, or Scott Griggs, or Adam Medrano, or Philip Kingston personally feels about it. The choice is between the really bad old gas ordinance and the really good new gas ordinance.

Even if you think the ordinance could use improving (and everyone on this side of the aisle thinks it does), you don't have the votes on the council to improve it. Residents could only muster six "no" votes for the Trinity East fight. Fortunately, they only needed four. You need eight for each and every improvement you want to make to the gas ordinance. They aren't guaranteed.

Mayor Rawlings is one of only three or four mystery votes in the middle that determine the new ordinance's fate, and the most likely weather vane for the whole lot. As he goes, so probably goes North Dallas newcomers like Jennifer Gates and Lee Kleinman. Assuming residents can hold onto the "Trinity East Six," that gives you 8-9 votes. Then, seeing the winds shift, you don't know what other Council members you pick-up trying to get on the right side of things. Chances of improving the ordinance begin and end with the Mayor and what does the Mayor say? He's on the record as supporting the CPC draft, not the draft with some tweaks.

Of more concern to residents should be the eight votes that the other side might be able to muster to weaken some of the ordinance's key provisions by opening it up to individual itemized tallies. Industry starts out with at least five hard-core supporters. Add three votes to a rollback here or there, and the ordinance that it took months to make good might be completely unrecognizable by day's end. When you open up the draft to tweaks, you're taking a big gamble that you're only going to tweak it in good ways. There could be bad tweaks as well.

The safest, surest way to get what what industry is calling a de-facto moratorium on gas drilling in Dallas is having the Mayor agree to a single yes or no vote on the entire draft ordinance, an option he says he already supports. The new Dallas gas ordinance matches the lengthiest set backs in North Texas. It's tough on compressor pollution and location. It has robust disclosure language and insurance and bond requirements. It recommends a brand new air pollution off-set program for Dallas to explore. Is the ordinance perfect? No. But it's the best we can get with the votes that we have. And it's enough to keep drillers like Trinity East out of Dallas for good.

Improving it will take the assistance of Council members who aren't behind the dais yet. In the next municipal election cycle in 2015, almost half of the current City Council, and more than half of the ardent gas industry supporters, will be termed out. That's going to be the time to get the rest of your eight votes for a better gas drilling ordinance, and lots of other improvements as well. 

Although there's still no date for an actual vote on the new gas ordinance, the city staff briefing – brace yourselves for one last Tammy Palomino appearance – to the Council is scheduled for the morning of Wednesday, November 6th at Dallas City Hall. If he Mayor wants this to go down smoothly, expect to hear a comment or two in support of the package as a whole being adopted. Residents might have a much clearer picture of where and how this will all be going down by session's end. Stay tuned.

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