Ed Ireland is Down to the Scientific Stems and Seeds

Stem and seedsMaybe the Barnett Shale Energy Education Council thought it was being cute by sending their latest "study" out on the day Gasland II had its theatrical premiere in North Texas.

Or maybe they knew what an egg they were laying. It's a basic rule of PR that you don't send things out on a Friday that you actually want people to see. And if you were the industry, even you might be a little embarrassed about this thing too. As of Tuesday afternoon, the group was so proud of it, they hadn't even posted it on their on website. As far as we can tell, it's details have only appeared within stories from in-house publications like the Star-Telegram.

Imagine the pitch on paper, if there was one. "We'll fund our own research so that it'll have maximum credibility. And since we can't find a reliable academic institution to do it for us, we'll have to contract to something called ToxStrategies out of Houston. We won't do any new research at all. We'll just regurgitate the state's own lame monitoring data. We'll take the seven stationary monitors that have screened for air toxics in North Texas – you know, the ones that ony take samples every sixth day (when they were operational), and let that represent the entire Barnett Shale. We'll only look at some Volatile Organic Compounds readings. We won't connect any gas drilling or production taking place to a timeline to show what activity was actually going on around these monitors, so they'll be no way to correlate our presence with increases or decreases in pollution. And of course, since we're using TCEQ monitoring data, we can also use their unsupported claims that there are "safe levels" of benzene and other carcinogens when the most recent science is in direct opposition to that discredited idea."

And that's about it. Old TCEQ monitoring data that may or may not have any correlation to drilling activity is used to once again say, "Look Ma, no health effects!" Think of it as the "Titan Study Part 2."

Industry and regulators always want to start at the smokestack end of things and draw assumptions of human health from that end. As long as pollution is  below certain levels that they just know are "safe" (until one day' they're not), they connect the dots and say there is no human harm occurring. They really don't want to actually go out and test that theory among real people on the ground living next to these facilities. They might find it doesn't hold up very well. That's why they want to stick to reviews of monitoring data.

Citizens always want to start from the other end – real life. Let's test that hypothesis about safe levels of poisons and see what the rate of asthma, cancer, miscarriages there are in the neighborhoods around and downwind of these sources. Are the rates of illness higher or lower the closer you get to a facility? Is there any correlation between the types of illnesses and any chemical in the atmosphere or water, no matter how safe the exposure level? And you know what, when it comes to fracking, there seems to be a lot of difference between what the studies that rely on real life say versus what the studies that rely on measurements say, like this "new' old effort released about a quarter to five on a Friday afternoon.

But hey, It can't be the BSEEC without the BS.

Dallas City Staff Trying to Pull a Fast One on Eve of Final Gas Ordinance Hearing and Vote

shellgameThursday's Dallas Plan Commission hearing on a new gas ordinance just got a lot more interesting. At 12 noon today, citizens received the staff proposal for language dealing with compressors stations in Dallas – among the largest, most polluting, most dangerous kinds of facilities in the natural gas fuel cycle.

Staff is attempting to carve out more areas of the cities where compressors can locate, as well exempt them from the already-approved 1,500 foot setbacks from neighborhoods required for drilling wells themselves, as well as exempt them from the vote two weeks ago to require mandatory electrification of all motors and engines.

In other words, city staff probably has a proposed compressor in mind – maybe in the Northlake development or elsewhere –  they're trying to write the rules around – just like they tried to do for the Trinity East permits.

What are the changes staff is recommending be adopted tomorrow by the Commission?

1) Staff wants to allow Compressors  to call themselves"light industry" and locate in more places in Dallas

Instead of confining them to only Industrial Manufacturing Zoning districts, as was voted on by the Commission two weeks ago, staff has gone ahead and included a brand new category of zoning that would also allow compressors  –  something called "Industrial Research" districts. 

In Dallas, an Industrial Manufacturing district is for "Heavy Industrial Manufacturing Uses with Accompanying Open Storage and Supporting Commercial Uses." That fits compressor stations to a T, since they can emit up to 250 tons per year of air pollution with a "Standard Permit" from the state. They're also subject to tremendous pressures and explosions. They belong in a heavy industrial district.

According to the City of Dallas' own zoning code, the "Primary Use" of facilities in an Industrial Research district is "Research and Development, Light Industrial, Office, and Supporting Commercial Uses."

We know from experience that the only research going on in or around compressor stations in North Texas are experiments on the public health. Staff gives no rationale for allowing compressors to operate in areas of light industry – like warehouse districts – where they would instantly become the nastiest neighbor.

This last minute change is reminiscent of what staff was doing to protect the Trinity East permits before anyone knew about the secret agreement former City Manager Mary Suhm made with the company. Could there now be another company or site the staff is trying to leave open for compressors that wouldn't otherwise be available by sticking to just the Industrial Manufacturing districts the Plan Commission voted for two weeks ago?

2) Staff wants to exempt Compressors from the 1,500 foot setback already agreed to for drilling sites.

Instead of using the distance between operations and neighborhoods the Plan Commission has already agreed is appropriate for well pad sites, staff wants to reduce the distance between larger, more polluting, more permanent compressors stations to just 1000 feet. 

This makes no sense at all. For all the real and potential problems at a well drilling site, they're miniscule compared to the pollution footprint of a compressor station. Moreover, the most intense potential releases of air pollution occur at a well site over a period of weeks, or, at most months. Once compressors are built, they're staying put and operating 24/7. If you have a 1,500 foot setback protecting neighborhoods from well sites, shouldn't you also at least provide that same level of protection from a facility that will be pumping out more pollution and also poses a risk of explosion, if not more? But, for some reason, staff wants Dallas residents to be less protected from these kinds of operations.

We need your help at tomorrow's public hearing  tomorrow to argue that we need at least the same setback for compressors as we do for well sites.

3) Staff wants to exempt compressors from the requirement to electrify all engines and motors

At their September 12th meeting, the Plan Commission also voted to require electric motors on all gas production facilities. No distinction was made between drilling site motors and generators, and compressors engines. Industry has argued that they can find electric alternatives to every combustion engine including the giant, locomotive-sized engines that run compressors. Since compressor stations are among the largest industrial air polluters, replacing diesel engines with electric ones makes even more sense in a "non-attainment area"  for smog like DFW than requiring electrification of all the motors and engines on a drill pad site.

The staff's recommendation that compressors be exempt from required electrification looks to be another special favor staff wants to grant  the industry.

These changes, along with others that we're just now receiving word about, are serious enough to cause us to change our plans for tomorrow's public hearing.

Citizen groups be hosting another pre-hearing press conference at 1:00pm  in the Flag Room outside the City Council chambers on the 6th floor where we'll be able to itemize the most severe challenges to our goal of getting the most protective gas ordinance in North Texas. THIS IS THE LAST PUBLIC HEARING ON THE ORDINANCE. WE NEED YOUR HELP. Please be there at 1 pm to hear what's at stake and what we need to be calling for in our testimony tomorrow afternoon.

Now is not the time for complacency…..

Dallas Gas Wars: Residents 1, Joe Barton 0

Suffergette VictoryCan we just admit up front that we're disappointed The Man himself didn't show up to personally lead the Charge of the Light Crude Brigade at yesterday's Dallas Plan Commission public hearing on a new gas drilling ordinance? We thought after Wednesday's passionate personal pleas for turnout at the Society of Petroleum Engineers' monthly meeting, Ol' Smokey Joe would surely have the courage of his convictions. Sadly, no.

Instead, he left the righteous fight against radical environmentalists to seven or eight heavily-outnumbered industry engineers and attorneys who showed-up and told the Commission that a 1,500 foot setback was tantamount to a ban on drilling in Dallas. Almost to a man, (for they were all men) they accused the extremists of persecuting a trouble-free, non-polluting industry that was guilty of none of the awful things being said about it by their opponents. In particular, they sought to tag the environmentalists as uninformed, as out of touch with research and the facts, as hypnotized disciples of Josh Fox. In doing all this however, they could muster no science of their own.

Given over 20 minutes of time to make their industry's case, not one engineer or attorney working within the industry cited even one peer-reviewed, journal-published health study to support their claim of benign impact on public health or the environment. Not a one.

For some time, and through many a fight, we've seen a common thread of industry criticism of the uninformed civilian. It has its roots deep in the pat-them-on-their-well-meaning-head sexism that greeted women like Rachel Carson and Lois Gibbs. It's grown to include anyone that challenges the industry's own cost-benefit analysis. It accuses residents of being "emotional" instead of rational when they disagree with that analysis by asking too many good questions.

And yet…when it comes down to the crunch, it's the industry representatives who appeal to the emotions the most when they raise the flags of jobs and growth and try to get everyone else to salute. It's the industry reps who do the most name-calling and make the most personal charges characterizing their opponents. Call it the Foxifying of industry rhetoric. And it was on full display at the Plan Commission on Thursday. Dallas was denying itself untold riches by effectively sealing off thousands of acres to fracking. It would be a devastating to job growth. No actual studies to prove that mind you, but industry assertions should be treated as facts, especially when they're assertion about economic growth – no matter how self-serving.

There was testimony that parks "are some of the best places to drill." That "there was no way" the industry would ever pollute the air or water. The language was absolutist and, dare we say, non-rational and not supported by the facts. At least, they didn't cite any facts to support those assertions yesterday.

And those radical environmentalists Smokey Joe warned about?

As usual, they included Dallas homeowners association members and presidents, people who owned wells themselves or or leased land for drilling, cancer patients, asthma sufferers, 25 year-olds, 81-year olds, Sierra Club members, Downwinders' board members, long-time Dallas residents and people who just moved here, plus a sprinkling of folks from Farmers Branch, Ft. Worth, Garland and Irving (30 of 35 speakers in favor of a 1,500 foot or more setback gave Dallas addresses) and a lot of women. One of the starkest contrasts between the two sides during the hearing was gender.

And, again, as usual, their representatives did cite studies. Lots of them. Because we've been through this before, because we know we'll be accused of being uninformed civilians, we know what's coming and we load for bear. The most comprehensive epidemiological study in a gas field to date showing increased cancer risks. Check. The most recent CDC study on silica pollution at well pad sites showing ever site tested exceeding federal limits by magnitudes. Check. USGS studies of the small earthquakes caused by fracking and the large ones caused by injection wells. Check and check. Proximity to benzene sources raises Leukemia risks. Check. NOAA study on actual methane releases from gas field being twice industry estimates. Check.

Were there appeals to preserve a good quality of life, clean water and cleaner air? Of course. But in most instances these were backed up by specific facts about fracking that challenged those goals. So that at the end of the day, not only was the Light Crude Brigade outnumbered, they were out-researched by the very bunch of know-nothings they were charging with the crime of misinformation. Most of them women.

That sweetly ironic resonance was the anti-climatic capping of a full day's worth of work for the Commission that included an affirmation of the 1500 foot setback originally agreed to back in June by lunchtime. All of the rhetoric back and forth in the public hearing was over an issue that had been argued and decided behind closed doors in Executive Session some five or so hours before. (You can follow the blow-by-blow live blogging of the Commission's morning meeting at our group Facebook site here, and read accounts of the decision in the DMN, Business Journal, & Observer,)

Winning the second affirmation of the 1500-foot setback at the Commission level now is no small accomplishment, especially since we had staff working against us. Dallas would be the largest city, by far, in the Barnett Shale to adopt such a lengthy setback (Fort Worth has only a 600-foot requirement, with variances even lower than that). As our Vice President might say, it's a BFD.

So if you sent an e-mail to the Commissioners this last week, we thank you very much, because that was the only direct advocacy they saw on this issue from our side before yesterday's decision to stick with 1500 feet was made.

But we've only won this provision as long as we can protect it. That's why it was good to come down to City Hall yesterday and support it anyway. Many of the speakers brought up the example of the last-minute Task Force rollbacks that occurred almost two years ago. With the same staff people who tried to scuttle the 1500 foot agreement still in charge of the ordinance-drafting process and rumors of some vague land swap with Trinity East still floating around, we all need to stay vigilant. And of course, if it reaches the City Council as an official recommendation there's no doubt it will come under fresh attack. But if we can hold it at the CPC, it will make it hard for the Council to change it. That's why it was important to show up yesterday afternoon. Thanks very much to everyone who did.

Another Commission public hearing on the new gas ordinance is scheduled for September 12th in the afternoon – but once again, it's scheduled after the regular zoning cases are heard so no certain start time will be available other than 1:30 pm.  It will concentrate on Air and Water Quality issues, as well as compressors – a subject never broached by the Task Force. We'll be working with our allies in the Dallas Residents at Risk alliance to get information on these issue areas to you, so that you'll once again be able to talk circles around the industry. Stay tuned.

And of course next Wednesday, August 28th will see a final vote on the Trinity East permits we've been battling since right after Thanksgiving. Thanks to the work of council members Scott Griggs, and Philip Kingston, who stopped by and gave a good pep talk to the troops before the hearing began, we believe we have the four council votes it will take to uphold the Commission's denial, but we need your help in bringing other, more reluctant members on board the band wagon. Beginning Monday, Downwinders' featured Citizen Action will be e-mails to the Council, urging them to vote to deny the permits.

After Wednesday's expected final Trinity East permit denial at Dallas City Hall, we're going to have a party to celebrate what is among the most important victories for public health and the environment in Dallas history. We don't know where and we don't know when, but such victories are too few and far between not to officially recognize. Please keep your calendar that night open.

Yesterday's Commission vote was a skirmish, inside a battle, inside a larger war with many fronts. But it was a critical skirmish. And residents won. Next week, we'll bury very bad and unethical gas permits that were "a done deal" as recently as March. Then we'll only have the new ordinance on which to focus.

Slowly but surely, we're doing what we said we would – drawing a line in the Shale in Dallas and stopping the steamroller of industry favoritism that's resulted in so much bad policy and public health harm elsewhere in the region. Dallas is becoming the place where the bad stuff stops rolling east and the good-thinking begins rolling back west.  See you on Wednesday.

City Hall Apparatchiks Rewrite History, Now Say 1500-Foot Setback Vote Never Happened

russian pic rewriteAny doubt that Dallas City Hall is more interested in protecting the Trinity East gas leases than Dallas residents as it writes a new gas drilling ordinance was surely removed yesterday when City Attorney Tammy Palomino flatly lied and told City Plan Commission members that they had not decided on a 1500-foot setback, or buffer zone, between homes and other "protected uses," even though they had done precisely that at their June 20th meeting.

Employing the Orwellian language of a Soviet history writer, Palomino simply choose to ignore the results of a decision she didn't like and pretend the vote never happened. She argued that there was "no consensus" on the CPC for a 1500-foot setback – even though that very word was used to describe the results of June 20th meeting by CPC members themselves, as well as the media.

Instead, she handed out an official "summary" of CPC drilling recommendations to-date that not only only didn't include ANY mention of the 1500-foot setback decision, but instead listed a 1000-foot setback limit that had specifically been rejected by the Commission!

That missing footage is critical. 1000-foot setbacks, with a variance (or exception) up to 500-feet, were recommended by the city's gas drilling task force, but we now know those recommendations were tailored to fit the circumstances of the Trinity East lease sites along the Trinity River in northwest Dallas. That is, with a variance that could put wells 500 feet from homes, the Trinity East sites could be approved. With the CPC's 1500 foot-setback, there's only a variance to 1000 feet. That makes it impossible for Trinity East to set up shop where they want. And that's why Palomino deliberately, but unethically, left the 1500 setback out of her "summary."

The problem for Palomino in trying to pull this kind of disappearing act is that there were way too many witnesses to the original vote, including reporters. According to KERA's account  "One of the first changes that grabbed consensus of the Plan Commission was an increase to the buffer zone or setback between gas wells and homes, businesses, schools, and recreational areas.  Plan Commissioners want 1500 feet, not the 1,000 recommended by the task force."  Channel 4 reported the same thing. There's also the fact that the city archives audio tapes of every CPC meeting, and citizens have have begun to videotape the meetings to catch this kind of bullying by staff.

What all of this will show is that on June 20th CPC member Paul Ridley took great pains to clarify that the CPC had indeed reached a consensus that they wanted a 1500 foot setback – considered the most protective setback currently used by any North Texas city. He even asked the question, "Do we have consensus on this?" and heads all nodded and not one verbal objection can be heard – other than from Tammy Palomino – who is stuttering that the city attorneys are going to have to make sure they can do this (no explanation of why Dallas can't). There's no question about what happened.

Which is why even the most cynical observers were shocked at the clumsy effort by Palomino to erase the decision from history by way of her "summary." It's like the City can't pass up an opportunity to create an ethical crisis whenever it deals with the Trinity East leases.

All the video and audio tape is being assembled into a nice neat package for the public and media. The case against Tammy Palomino will be devastating. As a result of her premeditated misrepresentations, Palomino should resign, or at the very least be re-assigned away from work on the new gas ordinance. She's representing Trinity East in these proceedings, not the citizens of Dallas.

Yesterday's episode was but the most extreme example of the kind of bullying and steamrolling that staff is employing against the CPC to end up with an ordinance that is Trinity East-friendly. As they have for the past three years or so, they're contorting the system to make it fit Trinity East's permits.

Besides the setbacks issue, staff really wants the CPC to OK gas drilling in parks, and a majority of CPC members today were willing to say out loud they supported that goal. That's right – after 7 months of crowds filling city hall to protest drilling in parks, Official Dallas is still moving toward approval of that idea. It's based on the idea of "unused" park land – a concept that has never been defined by the city or anyone else.

Trying to further this goal, staff actually came to Thursday's meeting with a US Parks Department definition of "active" and "passive" park land with the idea that Dallas could adopt something similar and allow drilling on the "passive" acreage. According to the list, "passive" park land is defined as land used for hiking, rock climbing, horseback riding, mountain biking, and camping, among others activities. Sounds pretty "active" doesn't it? Despite their propensity to allow park drilling it struck the CPC the same way and they firmly rejected staff's approach. Still, just like the 1500 foot setback issue, staff won't be satisfied until they get Trinity East what it wants.

Which brings us to a hard truth that the media and the public need to absorb. As bad and blatant as it is, Tammy Palomino's unethical behavior is only a symptom of a much larger rotten problem with this entire gas drilling ordinance process that has been present from before the task force was created right up until now.  It's impossible for staff to both be advocates for the Trinity East leases in the writing of a new gas ordinance and give objective counsel to the CPC and Council on how to write the most protective ordinance. They cannot serve two masters.

Palomino and others have been told they need to find a way to make sure Trinity East gets what it wants in this new gas drilling ordinance. That makes city staff just another lobbying arm of Trinity East, not honest brokers trying to produce the best and most protective policy for Dallas residents. Every piece of advice they give is meant to further the leases, not the public good.

Because of this fact, an independent counsel needs to be brought in for the purpose of helping draft this new gas drilling ordinance. Policymakers need to have the best information, the most objective information, if they're going to make good policy. They're not getting it from city staff when it comes to drilling.

It's time to quit pretending this isn't a big problem. When city attorneys start trying to erase public policy decisions because they conflict with a private interest they're serving, the system is no longer working. It's corrupt and must be replaced before that corruption is allowed to spread.

Stay tuned. You're going to be hearing a lot more about this.


Scheduling Note: Although the CPC released a schedule for its work on the drilling ordinance only last week, including three public hearings, things may be changing quickly with additional workshop times and different dates and times for hearings. There was a lot of talk about schedule changes on Thursday, but nothing was decided. Right now the first opportunity for you to express outrage at this latest development is a public hearing slated for August 15th, 4 to 6 pm, at City Hall but stay tuned to make sure.  

It’s Official: Trinity East Zombie Permits Coming Back; Dallas Gas Ordinance Rewrite Schedule Released – 1st Public Hearing August 15th

ZombiescouncilsmThey just won't take a big fat public "No!", or two, or three, for an answer.

We've learned form sources inside City Hall that Trinity East – with a big assist from City of Dallas staff and Mayor Mike Rawlings – is preparing to once again attempt to permit its three proposed drilling and refinery/compressor station sites along the Trinity River.

While the company and city staff keep trying to win support for a weaker new gas drilling ordinance than citizens have repeatedly requested, a deal is being wheeled that would have Trinity East trading its lease on park land for another piece of city-owned property in northeast Dallas. Meanwhile, the City is also working feverishly to firm up support for its official position that it can't possibly turn down Trinity East without losing a lawsuit  – an opinion no one outside of City Hall, save Trinity East,  shares so far.

Yeah, the secret gas deal that the Observer uncovered in February got City Manger Mary Suhm to finally leave the building come December, but she's not going until she gets those Trinity East sites permitted the way she promised behind closed doors.

All of which makes the writing of a brand new Dallas gas drilling ordinance even more important now. And last week the City Plan Commission released its two-month schedule of how that's going to be done (see below), complete with three (daytime) public hearings with an ETA to the City Council by October.

There will be just six more meetings of the Plan Commission to review the almost two-year old Dallas Gas Drilling Task Force recommendations and decide to take them at face value, strengthen them, or weaken them. Scatted among these will be three public hearings – the first one in a little over two weeks on August 15th from 4 to 6 pm. The Commission goal is to get a new drilling ordinance to the City Council by October, when the terms of current members expire.

That's the official agenda. The unofficial one is trying to find ways to weaken the new ordinance enough to allow Trinity East to be able to get their proposed sites permitted. There's already been plenty of evidence at previous meetings indicating how desperate staff is in trying to give their departing boss a going-away gift.

We know most of you can't come to the Plan Commission workshops on Thursday mornings to follow the nitty-gritty of how this plays out. We'll be there reporting that to you, no problem.  But what we can't do is manufacture warm bodies to put in seats for those three public hearings.  Please make it a point to show up at one or more of these – and in particular, the very last one on September 26th as it rolls into the City Council.

Trinity East lobbyist Dallas Cothrum is on record as saying the company's three previously proposed sites on parkland, flood plains and near a new soccer complex that have now been rejected twice by this same CPC were the "best possible" places the company could have chosen for drilling and processing. So now the battle is over the less-than-best possible places. We can't wait to see what part of town the City and Trinity will decide to sacrifice for that designation as part of their possible land-swap deal.

Making sure a new drilling ordinance is the most protective it can possibly be is the only way left to finally drive a stake through the heart of the Trinity East gas permits. You have no idea how much we hate to ring the alarm about these damn permits again, but the stakes are very high and we're on the verge of winning one of the Barnett Shale's biggest citizen victories  – if we can just keep the pedal to the metal. Bring your lead feet to the first hearing on August 15th.

Schedule for the City Plan Commission's Workshops and Public Hearings on the New Gas Drilling Ordinance

(All workshop meetings start at 9 am and take place on the 5th floor at 5ES in City Hall unless otherwise indicated. Specific Room locations for the Public Hearings at City Hall will be announced.  Topic #’s refer to the Dallas Gas Drilling Task Force Recommendations Matrix.)


9:00 am  – 12 Noon  CPC Workshop
• Topic 4 – Pad Site Operations


9:00 am -12 Noon CPC Workshop
• Topic 9 – Gas Drilling/Well Permit
• Topic 14 – Bonding Requirements
• Topic 15 – Site Monitoring and Review of Permit Application


1:30 pm  – 3:30 pm Workshop
• Topic 13 – Required Plans



9:00 am to 12 Noon CPC Workshop
• Topic 1 – Air Quality
• Topic 2 – Water


9:00 am – 10:45 am  CPC Workshop
• Topic 3 – Physical Pad Site
• Topic 16 – Emergency Response
• Topic 5 – Abandonment and Restoration



9:00 – 12 Noon CPC Workshop
• Topic 10 – Seismic Permits
• Topics 6 – Pipelines and Compressors


(Agenda: What to recommend to City Council)                                                                                     

Dallas Drilling Scandal Gets Its Very Own SLAPP Suit Threat

Keep QuietLet's see, so far the Great Dallas Drilling Scandal™ includes illegal drilling sites, a secret agreement, secret wells….in Irving, citizen protests, allegations of Open Meetings violations, likely Open Records violations, a surprise refinery, comparisons to Christ, and at least one grassroots city council candidacy. Missing until now was it's very own SLAPP suit (Strategic Lawsuit Aimed at Public Participation).


Monday saw the announcement that lawyers for the company behind the three controversial Dallas gas permits had sent a nasty letter to one Zac Trahan of the Texas Environmental Campaign telling him to cease and desist in handing out flyers telling people that a casing failure at one of the company's wells in Irving could have harmed groundwater. Since it happened deep underground and there has been no public disclosure of post-failure testing, it's impossible to say whether it caused harm to groundwater or not. But that didn't keep Trinity East from wanting full exoneration. According to a letter from the law firm representing Trinity East,

"That statement is absolutely false. Trinity East's prior well did not contaminate any underground water aquifers. In fact, any casing failure on that well could not have caused or produced aquifer contamination because surface casing was set and cemented at required depths (per Texas Commission on Environmental Quality rules) to protect all fresh water aquifers. TCE's actions are unlawful, and constitute, at a minimum, defamation under Texas law. There is no question that TCE fabricated this fiction and then disseminated it with the specific intent of interfering with Trinity East's rights under its lease with the City of Dallas."

That would be the previously undisclosed lease(s) with the City of Dallas over at the University of Dallas, in Irving (it's complicated) that have only recently come to light after citizen investigation and published reports in the Dallas Observer and Morning News.

The flyers in question were from Dallas Residents at Risk and only claimed that the casing failure may have contaminated groundwater. There's no way that Trinity East's lawyers could prove there was no contamination. We'll probably never know for sure. But the primary point of the letter is not to dispute the statement. It's to scare Zac, TCE and Dallas Residents at Risk into not saying stuff like this again, or they'll sue. Or at least talk a lot like they're going to sue. They'll really mean it. Sort of. Honest.

The tip-off about what this letter is really about is that it didn't come from the law firm representing Trinity East in the permitting process but from a firm (Kelly Hart and Hallman) that apparently makes targeting environmental groups a specialty. Only a short while ago, it actually sued TCE over a landfill expansion dispute. In this case however, Trinity East probably dreads actually taking Zac and Co. to court because then all documents about the (previously undisclosed) well could be reviewed by TCE and the public.

Although it's a sideshow to the on-going scandal over approving permits to do things that aren't legal, Trinity East's letter shows citizens hit a nerve by pulling back the curtain on the company's current operations. Representatives of Trinity East never fail to mention how many wells the company has drilled in the Barnett Shale, but as far as we can tell, nobody at Dallas City Hall has ever researched the company's environmental and safety track record. Once again, it was citizens performing the minimum due diligence that first came across the information on the existence of the Irving wells themselves, much less the casing failure.

Oh that. On February 7, 2013 Trinity East Energy's Tom Blanton told the City Plan Commission that "Trinity East Energy has never had a casing failure." Was he forgetting about the Irving well? Was he fudging a bit because it was done by the "Expro Energy" part of Trinity East? Or was he just not telling the truth? No matter, Dallas City Hall took the claim at face value and never checked. Why not? Maybe because they knew that doing so would reveal a long-standing prior relationship between the City and Trinity that included a well with a casing failure. Wow. That would be embarrassing.

A Dallas Drilling Scandal Primer

Garbage piling upThanks to everyone who turned out last Thursday for the (abbreviated) public hearing on the Trinity East "zombie" gas permits before the City Plan Commission. Our apologies to those of you who were not allowed to speak by the arbitrary too-soon ending of the hearing. It was one more example of a process gone off the rails when it comes to these permits.

It's now clear that what began as a neighborhood-based effort to fight off irresponsible urban gas drilling three years ago has now grown into not only a turning point for the entire Dallas environmental movement, but as of last week, into the largest Dallas City Hall scandal in years as well. There are suddenly lots of moving parts. Here's a quick summary of what we know as of today.

On Thursday morning, the Dallas Observer broke the story that in 2008 Dallas City Manager Mary Suhm signed a secret side agreement with Trinity East  that essentially turned City Hall into a lobbying machine for the company's gas permits. The first impact of that lobbying was a reversal of the no drill policy in Dallas parks. Only six months after city staff had told the Council and Park Board there would be no surface drilling in Dallas parks allowed, the side agreement Suhm negotiated with Trinity East assured the company that she and her staff were "reasonably confident" they could win permission to drill in parks for the company.

Many Dallas activists have speculated about such an agreement as the only way to explain why city staff seemed to be going out of its way to push through the Trinity East permits, including abruptly re-defining the current gas ordinance on the fly, ignoring or flouting precedents, and declining to bring the usual level of official scrutiny to bear. Suhm and city attorneys kept this document from public view even after years of opposition from neighborhood groups to drilling sites, including Trinity East's. At a time when every city staffer had an obligation to wear the Trinity East agreement on their sleeves, City Hall hid the fact they were working for the company to win its permit. Dallas Councilwoman Angela Hunt has prepared a detailed timeline of Suhm's deception.

Suhm declined to talk directly to the Observer, but instead issued a statement to the Morning News that said, in essence, she was shocked, shocked that anyone could think this side agreement with Trinity was a "back room" deal. Mayor Rawlings is standing by Suhm so far, issuing a statement of support late Thursday that emphasized the "non-binding" nature of the side deal that was "cut," as the Mayor so eloquently put it back in November.  The Observer's Jim Schutze had a take down of both of their official statements on Friday, saying "some stuff just won't spin." 

A growing chorus of groups and individuals are calling for Suhm to resign, as are some Council members like Hunt, and Scott Griggs. Her fate now seems linked to that of the Trinity East permits, since both seem tainted beyond redemption by the disclosure of the side deal. How can any resident or Council member trust what city staff says about the permits? How can any resident or Council member trust that Suhm won't sell them out again?

Meanwhile, the Observer has raised the possibility of Open Records Act violations by the City because it's pretty sure it asked for ALL documents related to the Trinity East permits. Citizens groups and individuals that have been turning in a constant flow of Open Records Act requests for the last three to four years might also have the same gripe.

But they'd have to take a number because four people, including Downwinders Director Jim Schermbeck, Zac Trahan of the Texas Campaign for the Environment, Raymond Crawford of Dallas Residents for Responsible Drilling, and Marc McCord of frackDallas went down to the District Attorney's office and filed a criminal complaint against the City Plan Commission Chair on Wednesday, alleging a violation of the Open Meetings Act prior to the January 10th vote to "reconsider" the Commission's denial of the permits. According to the complaint, Chair Joe Alcantar called members and lobbied them to vote for reconsideration in a practice called "daisy-chaining a quorum" that is explicitly against the law. If the charge is substantiated by an investigation, all subsequent decisions about the permits by the Commission could be invalidated. That would mean reverting back to the original December denial of the permits.

On the political front, John Carona, the Republican State Senator whose district includes the Elm Fork Soccer Complex, sent a letter to Mayor Rawlings, urging him to withdraw his support for the Gas Refinery and Compressor Station proposed for only 600 feet west of the Complex. Democrat State Representative Rep. Lon Burnam of Ft. Worth sent a similar letter, further isolating the Mayor politically.

In all, quite the "goat (act of procreation)", as the Observer's Brantley Hargrove labeled the whole Trinity East controversy last month.

What happens now?

Officially, the City Plan Commission put off any (legitimate or not) vote on the permits until its March 21st meeting. They have now specifically requested the Council deal with changing the current prohibitions against parkland and floodplain drilling before they're asked again to violate the law. So theoretically, the show now moves to the whole City Council, which has scheduled a 1:00 pm Wednesday, February 27th state-mandated public hearing on the city permanently removing park land from the city park system for drilling.

This same hearing has been scheduled twice before however, only to be canceled when the City Plan Commission didn't get around to doing what the Council couldn't bring itself to do first. Up to now the Mayor's strategy was to push the permits through the Plan Commission and Park Board to provide a cover for Council approval of drilling activity in parks and flood plains that's still not allowed. Apparently there's enough resentment about that among Plan Commission members for them to toss the hot potato back to the Mayor and Council. But it does so exactly as the Suhm memo hits and makes political support for the permits more tenuous.

We'll know soon whether the February 27th City Council hearing on turning over park lands to drilling is really on or not. Stay tuned.

Open Meetings Act Violation Filed Against Dallas Plan Commission Chair

(Dragnet(This release was sent out Wednesday afternoon…..)

(Dallas)—In the latest twist over the ordeal of what to do with old gas leases in Dallas, citizens have accused the Mayor’s appointee to the City Plan Commission of taking actions that may have resulted in a violation of the Texas Open Meetings Act while trying to reverse a denial of gas drilling permits for the last of those leases.

A group of four individuals representing themselves and various citizen and environmental organizations filed an official complaint with the District Attorney’s office alleging that CPC Chair Joe Alcantar individually lobbied Plan Commissioners over the phone prior to the CPC’s January 10th meeting in order to win a rare “reconsideration” vote to grant permits for Trinity East’s three controversial gas drilling and production sites in Northwest Dallas.

Lawyers familiar with the statute say if that’s what happened, it could be a violation of the Texas Open Meetings Act known as “daisy-chaining.” Not only would the January 10th reconsideration vote itself be illegal, but any action resulting from that vote – like Thursday’s scheduled public hearing on the reconsideration – could also be illegal.

In a letter to Dallas Mayor Mike Rawlings, City Manager Mary Suhm and City Attorney Tom Perkins, the group referred to the complaint, noting that at least three different Commissioners had independently confirmed that Mr. Alcantar, appointed by the Mayor, systematically called each of them to lobby for the favorable reconsideration vote.

“In this instance, we believe there’s a prima facie case that Mr. Alcantar met (via telephone) with members of the Plan Commission in number more than a quorum to discuss public business in private, the letter reads. “We believe this may constitute a criminal violation of the Open Meetings Act.”

The letter asks Mayor Rawlings to join the group in requesting a full investigation by the District Attorney’s office of the circumstances surrounding the January 10th vote. 

“As a result of our concerns, an official complaint, enclosed, has been filed with the Dallas County District Attorney’s Office. We want this matter fully investigated by an objective and independent third party. We ask that you join us in that call for a full investigation by the District Attorney.”

Members of the groups said that while they don’t know for certain if illegal activity took place, the allegations fit the profile of a City Hall that’s twisting the machinery of municipal government in order to get the result it wants.

“There’s no question that someone at City Hall has been tightening the screws on the City Plan Commission,” said Jim Schermbeck of the local clean air group Downwinders at Risk. “Whether that degenerated into the criminal behavior outlined in our complaint is for the District Attorney to discover.”

Besides Schermbeck, Zac Trahan of the Texas Campaign for the Environment, Raymond Crawford of Dallas Residents for Responsible Drilling, and Marc McCord of FracDallas all signed the complaint and the letter. They also all criticized the lack of transparency that has marked Dallas City Hall’s push for gas permits.

 “Ever since the original gas leases were signed in Dallas, City officials have retreated behind closed doors,” said Molly Rooke of the Dallas Sierra Club. “This is just another example of a back-room deal’ that affects every Dallas resident, but that no one sees until after the fact.”

Others in the group cited recent legal backflips by the City in what to call a proposed gas processing and compressor station facility just a few hundred feet from the new Elm Fork Soccer Complex. Last year it was a processing plant that would have required a special zoning district. This year, city attorneys say it’s only routine drilling equipment.

“The City is desperately pulling out all the stops in trying to get Trinity East’s gas permits approved,” said Zac Trahan of Texas Campaign for the Environment. “They’ve taken ridiculous positions and attempted parliamentary trickery, but this time their tactics may have gone too far.



Reporters have asked why we're not naming the Commissioners who described the Chair's actions. Here's why:

We don't believe anyone but the Chair is responsible for the illegal conduct and we don't want anyone else implicated. We'll talk about what we know under oath as part of an official investigation. If individual Commissioners want to speak to reporters on their own, that's their business, but we're not going to drag them into this just for publicity's sake.

Zombie Gas Permits on the March Again


Public (re)-Hearing on the Last Three Dallas Gas Sites.……including the newly-discovered "Rawlings Gas Refinery"

This Thursday
1:00 pm
Dallas City Hall

6th Floor
City Council Chambers

Press Conference followed by City Plan Commission Mtg

This is the "do-over" hearing demanded by the Mayor in order to win approval of these permits – after the first one in December resulted in denial.

Come and defend this victory or they'll steal it away from us.

Dallas Residents at Risk, the alliance of groups that we work with on this issue, will be holding a press conference at 1:00 pm – just like we did before the much-publicized January 10th reconsideration vote –  and then heading into the CPC meeting at 1:30. Show up early because we'll be talking about a surprising new development in this fight and bringing you up to date with the latest information.

It's important to demonstrate that opposition to these permits is growing, so if you haven't made it down to City Hall before, Thursday is the day to come.

If you're a regular, then you know how much warm bodies in the audience mean to the moment.

They would have been no news coverage on the 10th without all of us standing up and publicly "shaming" the CPC over its "reconsideration vote" in person. You can't do that by e-mail or petition. We need you there. We need you clapping for the good guys. We need you hissing the bad guys. We need you. There is no substitute.

Looking for material for your testimony? Here are some things we know now about these sites that we didn't when the CPC turned them down in December…..

* Neither the Park Board nor City Council ever voted to allow surface drilling in parks. In fact, city staff assured the City Council in 2008 that would be NO surface drilling in parks. So where did Trinity East get the idea it could have two of its drill sites on city park land (The newly-named Luna Vista Golf Course and near-by gun range)? That's a really good question that nobody at Dallas City Hall has attempted to answer.

* One of the Trinity East sites now contains a large gas refinery and compressor station in addition to a pad site for 20 wells. This facility will become the 10th largest air polluter in Dallas the moment it comes on line, releasing 75-100 tons of air pollution every year only 600 feet away from the City's new Elm Fork Soccer Complex on Walnut Hill.

* Last September, the City of Dallas denied a new permit to a rock crushing facility near the Elm Fork Soccer Complex because its 17 tons of annual air pollution was deemed too threatening for children's health. However, five months later, the city is advocating allowing the operation of a gas refinery and compressor station that is estimated to release some 75-100 tons of air pollution a year. Why is 17 tons of air pollution a health threat but 100 tons is OK? Another great question nobody at Dallas City Hall has answered.

* Trinity East knew when it signed its leases with the City that drilling in parkland and the floodplains was prohibited. So why is the City of Dallas still saying its afraid of a lawsuit by Trinity for backing out of the deal if the permits are denied?

We can win if we keep showing up and asking questions.
Please show up this Thursday.