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Anti-Drilling Forces Prevail in Dallas

Dallas City Council members on Wednesday afternoon voted to increase natural gas well setbacks from housing from 300 feet to 1,500 feet as part of a drilling ordinance proposed by the Dallas City Plan Commission (CPC) and favored by residents opposed to drilling within the city limits.

The vote was nine to six in favor of the CPC proposal after a motion to adopt less-restrictive rules -- those proposed by the council-appointed Drilling Task Force -- failed to pass. Members approved a motion by Councilman Scott Griggs to allow for a reduction in the 1,500-foot setback in particular cases with a two-thirds vote of council members.

The 1,500-foot setback requirement is seen by many as a prohibition against drilling within the city limits. The Drilling Task Force had recommended increasing the city's setback requirement to 1,000 feet but allowing waivers to provide for setbacks of as little as 500 feet.

During Wednesday's debate and in prior council meetings, some members lamented that 300 feet was too short a distance but 1,500 feet was too far. Members also heard plenty of testimony from pro-drilling advocates about all the economic benefits that have accrued to Fort Worth and its citizens from Barnett Shale gas drilling within the city (see Shale Daily, Aug. 30). Many times, though, organized drilling opponents out-represented them at council meetings.

"...[T]hey love to use Fort Worth as a model for how Dallas should regulate gas drilling," the group Dallas Residents at Risk said in an email blast to its anti-drilling members urging that they turn out for Wednesday's council meeting. "We know many of you have a different story to tell because you've experienced drilling up close and personal, or have family or friends who have."

Councilman Lee Kleinman voted against the more restrictive rules. Prior to the vote, he lamented what he considered to be a failure to compromise on the part of those in favor of stricter drilling rules.

"If you feel like this is a compromise position, it is not," he said. "Our ordinance as it was proposed by the task force was already one of the strongest and most protective ordinances in this country. But that just wasn't enough. So now we're going to have an ordinance that we might as well just save a lot of paper and write a one-line ordinance that says there will be no gas drilling in the city of Dallas. That would be a much easier ordinance to have."

Last summer the council voted to deny Trinity East Energy LLC three permits it needed to drill on leases within the city for which it has already paid $19 million, setting the city up for a possible legal challenge from the company that could end up costing it millions before the nearly five-year saga is over.

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