An op-ed from today's Dallas Morning News…..
There’s a moment in Woody Allen’s Bananas when the newly empowered dictator goes from deliverer to deranged. “All children under 16 years old are now … 16 years old,” he blithely declares. “The official language is now Swedish.” We laugh because the decrees are at such odds with the facts.
Dallas Mayor Mike Rawlings is experiencing his own Bananas moment over old gas drilling leases and having similar luck imposing fantasy on the facts.
But he’s not letting that stop him. The City Plan Commission will hold a do-over vote Feb. 7 on gas permits sought by Trinity East because the first vote, which opposed the permits, wasn’t to the mayor’s liking.
The CPC began hearings on these permits in 2010 but stopped because members were asked to perform tasks — environmental, toxicological and engineering — that were far outside their job description as part-time citizen volunteers.
So City Hall froze all action on the permits, established a task force, let it meet for a year and issue recommendations for a new gas ordinance last spring, and then promptly ignored the results.
In November, the mayor unfroze the process, declaring that the pending gas permits would be decided by the same inadequately equipped CPC, using the same inadequate 2010 rules. After three years, Rawlings has managed to lead us to the same inadequate spot where we started in 2010. Only now, according to him, it’s adequate.
But some things have changed. A Trinity East permit that in 2010 was limited to drilling is now a huge new gas refinery-compressor station that will handle toxic hydrogen sulfide and emit at least 75 tons a year of air pollution — within 600 feet of the city’s largest outdoor recreation center.
How do we know this? Because citizens went to investigate the site plans at City Hall — something no city employee, Plan Commission member or City Council member had done.
That’s a problem because the old, used-to-be-inadequate-but-now-adequate gas ordinance states that such facilities need their own zoning districts. That isn’t part of the current permit request.
It’s also a problem because the chair of the city’s gas task force never wanted compressor stations within the city limits. They emit too much pollution.
Now City Hall is scrambling to solve the problem — linguistically. Staff says that what they defined as processing plants and compressor stations last month are no longer defined as such this month.
In other words, “Everything that was a compressor station … is now not a compressor station.”
There’s also the question of how a proposal sold as involving no surface encroachment on city park land became a policy that allows rigs in the middle of city parks and taking park land out of circulation forever. But there’s method to this madness.
It appears that Dallas City Hall made a deal with Trinity East to drill on city park land and floodplains even though no such thing was possible under current law.
“When we took the lease, we had that discussion with the city,” Trinity East manager Steve Fort told the Dallas Observer. “It was made very clear that adding that as a permitted use would not be an issue.” Or, as Mayor Rawlings later said bluntly to reporters in December, “that deal was cut.”
It’s in service to this seedy deal that the mayor and City Hall are distorting the entire municipal bureaucracy for the benefit of a single gas company.
Rawlings should recognize that he’s abetting, as Allen’s Bananas character says, “a travesty of a mockery of a sham of a mockery of a travesty of two mockeries of a sham.” He should withdraw support of the Trinity East permits. He should pass a protective gas ordinance that will process gas permits correctly. And he should demand resignations from anyone at City Hall who sold public assets to the highest bidder when those assets weren’t up for sale.
Ed Meyer is president of the Fox Hollow Homeowners Association and may be contacted at email@example.com. Jim Schermbeck is director of Downwinders at Risk and may be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.
….to either let a vote stand, or steal it
….to defend air quality, or approve a new refinery that will be a top ten polluter
….to protect parks and floodplains, or make them industrial sites
….to listen to its residents, or a single gas company
The City Plan Commission Can Decide All These Things Today
Thursday 1:30 pm 6th Floor City Council Chambers
Dallas City Hall
The fight over gas drilling in Dallas is now as much a about the democratic process as it is about pollution:
– Public meetings scheduled five days before Christmas in hopes of lowering turnout
– Hiding a huge compressor station and gas processing plant that will be the 10th largest air polluter in Dallas inside a "drilling permit"
– And now, they want to steal a vote citizens won in December through "reconsideration" of that vote a tomorrow's Plan Commission meeting…without any opportunity for public comment.
But we assure you. There will be public comment.
Help us protect your rights as citizens and breathers
Join us Tomorrow
Because some things just need protesting
Thursday 1:30 pm
6th Floor City Council Chambers Dallas City Hall
And Today… you can send an instant e-mail to the Dallas City Council and the Dallas Plan Commission telling them you don't want them to "reconsider" the gas permits that were denied in December
Do this right now. Please. Thanks
Under the guise of "gas drilling," Dallas City Hall and industry are pressing for approval of a permit that would locate a gas refinery only 600 feet from the new Elm Fork soccer complex, and immediately give birth to one of the ten largest air polluters in the City of Dallas, as well as one of its most toxic.
"There's a huge toxic Trojan Horse hiding in what the City and Trinity East describe as just a gas drilling permit," charged clean air activist Jim Schermbeck of Downwinders at Risk. "In fact, the Elm Fork permit allows for the building of a gas refinery that houses at least three giant compressors as well as an entire acid gas removal unit that strips off hydrogen sulfide, one of the most dangerous substances in the gas patch."
A motion to "reconsider" the Dallas City Plan Commission's 7-5 December 20th rejection of the Elm Fork permit and two other Trinity East gas sites is being advocated by CPC Chair and Mayoral appointee Joe Alcantar at this Thursday's meeting. If successful, the "reconsideration" would require the CPC to hold a second hearing and re-vote on the permits less than a month after denying them.
Opponents say the move is an act of desperation on the part of the Mayor and City Manager to protect a secret deal that was made between the City and Trinity East when the company first paid for mineral rights leases on city owned land. In interviews, the Mayor himself has said that a "deal was cut." Residents say the public was left out of that deal.
But after making calls to City Hall, Schermbeck is convinced that no one in Dallas city government is aware that the "gas drilling permit" being proposed by Trinity East is actually a permit to build a large gas refinery in the Trinity River floodplains.
"They're in way over their heads. City attorneys are still describing this as a drilling permit, but that's not what takes up most of the acreage on this site – it's all about the refinery."
During the December 20th City Plan Commission hearing on the permit, Trinity East representatives stated that the three proposed compressors alone – huge locomotive sized diesel-powered engines that produce thousands of horsepower in order to move gas through pipelines – would release 25 tons of air pollution each every year for an annual total of 75 tons.
That number would immediately place the facility among the city's ten largest air polluters according to the latest state emission totals from 2010. It would join power plants, asphalt and roofing materials manufacturers, and chemical plants as one of the city's biggest "stationary sources" of pollution.
However, Schermbeck thinks Trinity is low-balling their total air pollution impacts by not including other on-site refinery sources like its battery of storage tanks and "acid gas removal" operation that's designed to strip dangerous hydrogen sulfide off of natural gas streams through a series of acid baths and heat.
Hydrogen Sulfide is a harmful and toxic compound. It is a colorless, flammable gas that can be identified by its "rotten egg" odor. This invisible gas is heavier than air, travels easily along the ground, and builds up in low-lying, confined, and poorly ventilated areas. It acts as a chemical asphyxiant through inhalation exposure and its effects are similar to cyanide and carbon monoxide, which prevent the use of oxygen.
The equipment to strip off Hydrogen Sulfide from raw gas is large, complicated and dangerous. Site plans show a 200 foot long "pipe rack" with at least 20 "point sources" or stacks, apart from the compressors, where pollution could be released into the atmosphere.
"This isn’t a facility you want near parks or kids," said Schermbeck. "Yet, the City of Dallas seeks to put it just 600 feet away from its new huge soccer complex that’s meant to attract thousands of kids for hours every week."
Such a gas facility also challenges regional smog goals. A 2012 study from the Houston Advanced Research Center found that "routine emissions from a single gas compressor station can raise ozone levels by 3 parts per billion (ppb) as far as five miles downwind, and sometimes by 10 ppb or more as far as 10 miles downwind."
The Trinity East numbers don't reflect the release of greenhouse gas pollution either, which could be enormous from a facility the size of the refinery being proposed. Gas processing plants can release 20 to 80,000 tons of greenhouse gases a year. By comparison, the entire inventory of greenhouse pollution from all Dallas industrial sources in 2005 was 25,000 tons a year.
None of this information was brought up at the December 20th CPC hearing on the Elm Fork permit because the permit request in its current form was only a couple of weeks old when it went to the CPC and the compressors were a last-minute addition to an older, pending request.
Citizens were lucky to get a crowd to even show up five days prior to Christmas, and Schermbeck believes no one at Dallas City Hall bothered to notice that one of the so-called drilling permits was a refinery permit.
"Because it had no expertise of its own, and it was ignoring citizens, City Hall was completely reliant on the company's version of what the permit was for, and Trinity East probably didn't want to admit they were stuffing one kind of permit inside of another. The City didn't perform its due diligence. The result is that it's been completely played by the company."
Schermbeck recounted that he could find no one at City Hall who had any idea of how Trinity East arrived at their "25 tons a year" air pollution figure, knew what kind of specific pollutants that tonnage included, or, most importantly, thought it would be good to know this information before the city handed the company a permit to operate an inner-city gas refinery.
"Mayor Rawlings and the City Manager seem content to give Trinity East a blank check to pollute Dallas air," he said.
A closer look at the refinery site plans also reveals equipment that is fundamentally at odds with the way Trinity East and the gas industry has been portraying what kind of gas Dallas has underneath it.
Up to now, gas operators have been saying Dallas gas is "dry" and without a lot of extra hydrocarbons found in "wet gas" further west. But the acid gas removal units and Glycol conductors proposed for the Elm Fork refinery are built for wet gas.
Schermbeck suggests that perhaps either the City has been mislead about the nature of the gas it owns or the nature of the Trinity East site. He theorized that instead of the Dallas refinery being built for dry Dallas gas, it might be aimed at wet gas coming from the west.
"Dallas would get none of the royalties, but all of the pollution."
Mad? Go to this link now and send an e-mail to the Dallas City Council and City Plan Commission that says you oppose these gas permits and the "reconsideration" of their denial by the Commission:
Do it Now.