Dallas Commission Rejects ‘Fracking’ Permits

It seems the waiting game might finally be over in Dallas. After years of city government lollygagging, residents appear to be closer to an answer on whether the city will be open to fracking. On Thursday the City Plan Commission rejected natural gas producer Trinity East’s drilling permits, which have been the center of contention in Dallas’ fight over fracking. The final decision ultimately rests in the hands of the City Council, but it would take a supermajority of 12 of its 15 members to override the commission’s vote.

The commission had previously voted against the permits (one of which includes plans for a gas processing plant), but its chair called for a rehearing, which was later rescheduled in February. The punt was the latest in a series of inconclusive moves on the part of the city that began in 2008 when it opened up bidding of public lands to natural gas producers. Though the city was able to bolster its budget with the lease contracts, the money was perhaps more trouble than it was worth.

Trinity paid Dallas $19 million to lease the land, which is technically city parkland and in the Trinity River floodplain. Dallas’ current gas drilling ordinance bans drilling in both places. Sparing you the confusing particulars, it came to light in February that Dallas City Manager Mary Suhm had brokered a secret side-deal with Trinity in 2008. She had included the parkland in the lease without the City Council’s knowledge. Suhm also told Trinity that her staff would help the company secure drilling permits. Council Member Angela Hunt recently called Suhm out on her actions, but most of the council rose to the city manager’s defense (there were some Biblical references), and Suhm maintains she did nothing wrong.

Dallas Mayor Mike Rawlings has said the city wants to avoid a lawsuit, but whether Trinity will pursue legal action or not remains to be seen. Calls to Dallas Cothrum, a zoning consultant who has been representing Trinity through this whole ordeal, were not returned.

Cothrum was one of a handful of people who spoke in favor of the Trinity permits at Thursday’s hearing. Other than the Trinity representatives, which also included president and CEO Tom Blanton, only three speakers supported the permits, while those opposing them numbered more than 50.

Jim Schermbeck of the North Texas environmental group Downwinders at Risk says fracking opponents’ overwhelming presence at the Thursday hearing represents a turning point in Dallas’ environmental scene. “This is one of those once-in-a-decade fights that determine how much power local residents and local environmentalists have,” he said, “and I think the establishment has been surprised about what kind of a pushback there’s been to what many council people assumed would be a done deal.” … FULL STORY