City of Dallas officials are inching toward a conclusion to the long-running debate over how large to make the buffer zone around would-be well sites within the city. One proposal could effectively prevent drilling within the city limits, an industry advocate said.

At a meeting last week, members of the Dallas City Plan Commission called again for a 1,500-foot setback for natural gas wells, a requirement that drilling advocate Ed Ireland of the Barnett Shale Energy Education Council has said would stifle drilling.

However, the city’s gas drilling task force has been pushing for 1,000-foot setbacks with the option for operators to obtain a waiver that would reduce the distance to 500 feet. In nearby Fort Worth, the well setback requirement is 600 feet.

Anti-drilling organization Downwinders at Risk in an email to members said the 1,500-foot setback is the same as what the Texas towns of Southlake and Flower Mound require in their drilling ordinances. The distance is the longest setback currently used by any North Texas municipality, the group said.

“The reason I say that a 1,500-foot setback is a de facto moratorium is Flower Mound passed that a few years ago, and there hasn’t been a single drilling permit applied for since,” Ireland told NGI’s Shale Daily. “I would say that just the very fact that anti-drilling people support the 1,500-foot setback; they’re very vocal about supporting it. That means they know that it’s a de facto moratorium.

“When you have a city that’s as fully developed as Dallas is, finding a plot that’s large enough to sustain that 1,500-foot setback, I would think those plots are few and far between.”

Plan Commission members are scheduled to meet again Sept. 26 and take a final vote on drilling regulations, including the setback. Whatever they approve would be sent to the Dallas City Council for its consideration, likely in October.

Ireland said even if the commission recommends a 1,500-foot setback, council members might be so invested in the Dallas Gas Drilling Task Force that they go along with its 1,000-foot setback recommendations.

“I think they feel somewhat invested in the Dallas Gas Drilling Task Force,” Ireland said. “That was a group of people that met frequently for over a year and put a lot of work into their recommendations, and their recommendation was for a 1,000-foot setback. The City Plan Commission seems to be going with all the other recommendations of the Gas Task Force but not the setback. I’m not sure it’s a slam-dunk that the city council would go along with a 1,500-foot setback. I think they may well drop back to the task force recommendation.”

But before a decision on setbacks is made, the city council is scheduled to hear Wednesday from Trinity East Energy LLC, which is appealing to the council to overturn a previous rejection by the commission of its drilling applications. The company must persuade a super-majority of the 15-member Dallas City Council to grant the permits (see Shale Daily, March 25). If Trinity East prevails, it could be the first company to drill within Dallas city limits.

But the Downwinders group last week said it believes it has the votes necessary to block the Trinity East permits. “At last count, citizens have at least four or five council votes to uphold the denial, meaning the permits would die a final certain death, even if a majority of the council still supports them, as appears to be the case,” the group said.

Ireland said the Trinity East decision will be a close one. “From what I understand about the leanings of the various council members, it looks like it will be close. I’m not sure it’s a slam-dunk either way. There’s probably a lot of discussion or politicking going on within the city council. I think we’ll just have to wait and see what the vote is.”