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Texas Lawmaker, Others: Move Gas Patch Farther From Schoolhouse

Natural gas wells in Texas would have to be at least 1,200 feet from public schools if a bill filed Monday in the state legislature becomes law, but a group advocating the interests of Fort Worth neighborhoods says it wants wells to be one mile or more from the schoolhouse.

Rep. Lon Burnam (D-Fort Worth) has said the requirement in his bill is necessary because enforcement of well distances has been inconsistent in the state. He also noted concerns about alleged pollutants from natural gas operations in the Fort Worth area.

The 1,200-foot setback from schools is not enough, according to the Fort Worth League of Neighborhoods Association (FWLNA). FWLNA was expected to present a study on gas patch emissions that it commissioned to the board of the Fort Worth Independent School District (FWISD) at its meeting Tuesday evening. FWLNA said it wants gas wells to be no closer than one mile to schools.

According to FWLNA, setbacks of about one mile from school boundaries are necessary to ensure that emissions of carbon disulfide, benzene and other toxins do not exceed eight-hour limits for short-term health benchmarks. The group also calls for the use of electric drill rigs, electric compressor engines and electric motors at drillsites near schools; independent testing and monitoring of wells for their lifetimes by an independent entity; and "green completions," among about a dozen recommendations, as reported by the Star-Telegram of Fort Worth.

A copy of the full study to be presented to FWISD was not immediately available.

It currently is up to cities to set the distance that wells must be placed away from schools. In Fort Worth the requirement currently is 600 feet.

Burnam's bill (HB 1556) reads, "The Railroad Commission of Texas may not issue a drilling permit for an oil or gas well that is proposed to be located less than 1,200 feet from a public school...The change in law made by this act applies only to a drilling permit the application for which is filed with the Railroad Commission of Texas on or after the effective date of this act."

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