Red Alert for Dec 20th: Dallas Wants to Drill Like It’s 2009

This is a heads-up to all Dallas residents: Dallas City Hall – the building, the people, everything – has climbed into a time machine and traveled all the way back to 2010.

This has allowed the City council and staff to ignore citizen demands for a more protective gas drilling ordinance, the defeat of a council member who advocated drilling, the creation and conclusion of a task force for helping write a new ordinance, and a bunch of public hearings over the last two years – all so that Dallas City Hall can now just go ahead and do what the gas operators originally asked it to do at the beginning.

The first Special Use Permit request from a gas well operator to allow drilling in Dallas since 2010 will be on the agenda at the December 20th Dallas Plan Commission meeting at City Hall. It concerns a new request to drill by XTO (Exxon-Mobil) at the old Navel Air Station in southwest Dallas, near the Grand Prairie line, that was submitted on November 16th.

Time it's taken the City of Dallas to write a new drilling ordinance in Dallas: 24 months and counting

Time it took XTO to get its new drilling request heard despite not having that new ordinance yet: 20 days

You can read about the sudden jump into municipal action here behind the DMN paywall.

"XTO’s latest requests are apparently on a fast track, headed to the City Plan Commission….

A new, tougher Dallas drilling ordinance is in the works but has not been approved or even published for review, so the existing ordinance would govern the XTO applications, based on the city’s legal view that one set of rules should apply throughout the process."

Every Dallas City Council member appoints a representative to the City Plan Commission. Dallas residents should call their own City Council member (info here), or their Plan Commission appointee (download a list and contact info here) and tell them to reject this XTO request and any others that try to get processed before a new drilling ordinance is in place.

Here's the media release that Dallas Residents at Risk put out this morning about the sudden turn around:

Dallas Officials Consider Throwing Away Years of Work on New Gas Drilling Ordinance and Simply Let Fracking Begin

Have Mayor Rawlings and the Dallas City Council made a decision to move ahead with existing, pending and even new gas drilling applications without taking any action on the new “fracking” ordinance that has been in the works since 2010?

Two weeks ago, Exxon-owned gas company XTO filed a new gas drilling application—because their previous bid to drill at Hensley Field was denied by the Dallas City Plan Commission two years ago. Then the City Council appointed a special Gas Drilling Task Force, whose members met every week for eight months to consider proposals for a new ordinance. They finished their work in February of this year and issued their official recommendations, yet the City Council has not even begun drafting a new ordinance. The only rumored exception: City officials may consider simply changing the existing ordinance to allow fracking in floodplains, which would be necessary for gas company Trinity East to move ahead with its plans to drill in floodplain areas along the Trinity River. Neighborhood groups and environmental advocates say that’s unacceptable.

"This is the largest retreat of leadership that I can ever remember on such an important public health and environmental issue,” said Jim Schermbeck, Downwinders at Risk. “After three years of citizen complaints, a task force created, convened and concluded, expert and public testimony, and all Dallas residents get is a pair of shrugged shoulders from Mayor Rawlings and the Council? It's a bad joke."

There have been several major scientific studies surrounding the risks of fracking since Dallas officials began debating the new ordinance. Community leaders worry that new evidence pointing to health and safety risks for residents living near drilling sites will simply be ignored.

“So what if there's a 66% higher cancer risk within a half mile of a gas well; so what if already bad Dallas smog is made worse; so what if we still have no idea what chemicals will be used for fracking in Dallas,” said Claudia Meyer of the Mountain Creek Neighborhood Alliance. “It's as if the Mayor and Council are closing their eyes, plugging their ears, and desperately hoping to make all these new facts go away by just pretending they never happened.”

The new drilling applications leave Dallas officials exactly where they started, with the City Plan Commission being asked to shoulder the responsibility of deciding on whether to allow fracking to go forward. Advocates say the Commission should decline this offer and let the City Council do what it said it was going to do: Draft and pass a new gas drilling ordinance first.

“If we were only going to end up where we started, what was the point of a task force, or public hearings or anything that's happened since permitting stopped because the City wanted a new drilling ordinance,” said Zac Trahan with Texas Campaign for the Environment. “This is complete and utter dereliction of duty and public trust by the elected officials of this city on one of the most important public health and environmental questions to face Dallas in decades."

Yes Virginia, There is a Pro-Cancer Lobby

The New York Times' Nicolas Kristof, who's established himself as one the nation's leading editorialist on the harms of what he calls "Big Chem," has another excellent piece in the Sunday edition.

Using the curious case of Formaldehyde, the carcinogen that isn't one according to the people who make money manufacturing it, Kristoff draws a portrait of the kind of industry-fueled professional obfuscation that Big Tobacco, Big Oil and Every other Big Industry of the last 60 years has used to escape necessary regulation.

Part of this strategy is to block, delay and bury information that proves your product's guilt, and so it is with Formaldehyde, something most of us think we only run across in High School biology labs. As it turns out, the chemicals is used in a wide variety of products and our homes are full of it. Our general exposure to formaldehyde has increased. This use and exposure has risen even as the World Health Organization and American scientists have concluded that formaldehyde causes cancer.

And so a seemingly innocuous document like the 500-page "Report on Carcinogens" from the National Institutes of Health becomes a real threat to the manufactured "uncertainty" the chemical industry has spent so much to construct.

“Formaldehyde is known to be a human carcinogen,” declared the most recent Report on Carcinogens, published in 2011. Previous editions had listed it only as a suspected carcinogen, but the newer report, citing many studies of human and animal exposure to formaldehyde, made the case that it was time to stop equivocating."

This conclusion made the report an instant target. Industry got its supporters in the house to demand a follow-up study for Formaldehyde and that no other Reports on Carcinogens be published with the new consensus language on its cancer-causing impacts.

So a chemical that the science says is clearly a carcinogen is still being sold in lots of household products as if it was perfectly safe thanks to folks who, collectively, make up what might be called the "pro-cancer lobby."

Besides all of us being exposed to Formaldehyde through consumer products, people who live in places where natural gas is being mined, like the Barnett Shale, as well as those downwind of waste-burning cement plants, like the ones in Midlothian, get dosed with more of the stuff. So, you know, we're doubly-blessed in DFW.

RIP: The DMN “Energy and Environment” Blog

We didn't notice it until after the fact, in part because its owners quit noticing some time ago, but the Dallas Morning News' "Energy and Environment" blog is no more.

Back in 2006-2007, it started out well enough, fueled by the opposition of the paper and the City of Dallas to Governor Perry's plans to fast-track as many as 17 new coal-fired power plants. It served as a platform for the paper's reporting of that story from Business Section reporter Elizabeth Souder, as well as writings from Editorial Board writer Colleen McCain, and Environmental Reporter Randly Lee Loftis.

But as that story went away, so did the blog's flow of entries. While Souder would post, Loftis was an infrequent contributor and McCain left the paper some time ago. Pieces had been coming in at a rate of one every 2-4 months. As a place to go to find out things about local DFW environmental goings-on, it had ceased to be relevant years ago.

Still, its demise is another sign of how scant the mainstream coverage of environmental issues is in the nation's fourth largest metropolitan area. Forget about the Star-Telegram – it doesn't even have a reporter assigned to do environmental beat coverage. Channel 8's Project Green is as much a self-promotional vehicle as it is information clearinghouse. Loftis remains the Last Environmental Reporter standing in DFW but the infrequency of his articles and absence at major events would challenge that title.

Only the alternative weeklies – The Dallas Observer and Ft. Worth Weekly –  have maintained their coverage of environmental issues and risen to the crisis created by the invasion of urban gas drilling. They're providing much of the coverage that you might have seen in the dailies only a decade or so ago.

And of course, there's the citizen blogosphere. Here in North Texas we have Sharon Wilson's Blue Daze – probably the nation's closest thing to an online national grassroots meeting place for gas drilling skeptics and opponents. Sharon gets more hits in a day than many of the mainstream media's stories get in weeks. In her wake she's inspired a slew of homegrown fracking sites throughout the Barnett Shale and beyond that mix micro reporting on their neighborhood battles with macro analysis and links to national articles. Want to find out about fracking in Grand Prairie? You'd best take a look at Susan Read's Westchester-Grand Prairie Community Alliance. Need to get an update on the fight over Dallas' new gas drilling ordinance? You should check out the Dallas Residents at Risk page for the latest news you won't find anyplace else.

There's Green Source for calendar and event listings, and they've been upping their reporting of North Texas environmental controversies, taking on West Nile arieal spraying, Dallas gas drilling, and the Midlothian cement plants that are so near and dear to our own hearts here at Downwinders.

And there's us. We know we've been spotty of late, but we're bet getting back on track with regular daily postings to try and give you information that's interesting, and useful. Keep checking. We'll keep posting.