On December 11, the Dallas City Council voted 9-6 in favor of one of the most restrictive policies in the country on extracting natural gas. The new ordinance prohibits gas wells from being built within 1,500 feet from a residence, school, church, or well. To put that distance in perspective, any natural gas well now requires a buffer zone equivalent to the area of a football stadium and its surrounding parking lot. Before the new standard, the previous buffer zone for drilling in Dallas was only 300 feet.
The City Council has repeatedly stated that the new regulations are not a means to ban fracking within city limits. Proposed in September, Dallas officials told the New York Times in October there is no intention of banning drilling. Rather, the Council is simply being cautious. But many believe that’s not the case, and any feasible opportunity to drill is completely eliminated with the new standard.
Dallas Council member Lee Kleinman, who voted against the zoning regulations, told the mediafollowing the vote, “we might as well 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.”
John Holden, oil, gas, and mineral lawyer in Dallas, shared a similar perspective. He told the New York Times, “What [the City Council is] saying to the industry is, they don’t want you here.”
Do the New Fracking Ordinances Add Up?
The tighter regulations may prove costly for the city’s economy, while nearby cities like Fort Worth collect hundreds of millions of dollars from drilling companies to use city land. That money goes towards city improvements like paving roads, improving parks, and keeping municipal departments well-funded and fully-staffed.
Many Texas residents have recently voiced frustrations about the overabundance and intrusiveness of the gas wells. In the case of Fort Worth, companies may drill within 600 feet from homes as long as they don’t pose a noise threat to nearby citizens. Considered a comfortable balance between business and environment, the end result is around 1,700 producing wells within city limits. Fort Worth native Don Young doesn’t see a balance, however, telling the New York Times, “[the wells are] gradually chipping away the quality of life.”
Forty miles northwest of Dallas, Denton, Texas is home to the University of North Texas – and its own share of production wells. Here, fracking wells must be 1,200 feet away from homes. But any well that was in place before the rule took effect was exempt from the 1,200 foot requirement, resulting in some drilling pads only a couple hundred feet away from homes. Wells are extremely close to the university as well, according to Rebekah Hinojosa, a student living on campus. She tells truth-out.org, “Now we have a frack site across the street from our dorms and the drill extends underneath half of the campus. Our campus looks pathetic with a fracking site situated 100 feet away from the university’s three wind turbines and platinum LEED-certified football stadium, surrounded by signs saying, ‘We mean green!’”
Earlier this month, even the Mayor of the ‘Energy Capital of the World’ (Houston, TX) spoke about the environmental concerns stemming from fracking wells. As reported by Dallasnews, Houston Mayor Annise Parker told reporters on December 10 that it’s time that industry, government, and citizens have “adult conversations about the trade-offs” between economic prosperity fueled by the energy boom in Texas and the environmental consequences of fracking and runaway energy consumption.
So while the new zoning standards in Dallas will cost the city a pretty penny from missing out on fracking cash, there must be a fair share of residents breathing a healthy sigh of relief from the news. How far away from a fracking pad would you be comfortable living? Has the city of Dallas pushed the boundary too far with its new ordinance?