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Dallas City Council Approves Strict Gas Drilling Rules

After months, even years, of debate, the Dallas City Council on Wednesday approved strict new gas drilling rules. Drilling opponents are cheering. Gas industry officials say the new rules are so tough that wells may never get drilled on the city’s western edge, which sits over the eastern extremes of the Barnett Shale.

Wednesday's decision was several years in the making. For the longest time, it wasn’t clear whether any of the lucrative Barnett Shale was located beneath Dallas. But then some businesses secured drilling leases. Activists and neighborhoods got busy demanding stricter setbacks than the 600-feet restriction in Fort Worth.

Arguments for the much longer 1,500 feet went like this: The farther a drill site from a home, the lower the impact on people, whether it be possible dust, water, air or noise pollutants from the drilling. Others were concerned about possible drill site explosions or accidents.

The council approved the ordinance 9-6, with Mayor Mike Rawlings voting for it.

Vote sparks mixed reactions

Retired engineer Richard Guldi was thrilled by the Dallas council's decision.

“I’ve got friends in Arlington -- the woman’s husband and son came down with cancer when they put drilling across the street," Guldi said. "I don’t think that’s a coincidence. My granddaughter has asthma. My wife has asthma. Nine percent of the people in the United States have asthma. It’s 23 percent in areas near drilling, near fracking.”

But longtime oil and gas man David Martineau, who represents independent oil and gas producers and royalty owners, says the Dallas ordinance is so drastic that it will kill gas drilling in the city.

“No legitimate oil and gas company will take a lease based on the proposals that were passed," Martineau said. "The amendment to it that said they can go and get a two-thirds vote to change the 1,500 feet, that’ll never happen because nobody will take a lease from the start.”

"This is about neighborhoods"

Council member Vonciel Jones Hill said the ordinance goes too far. She called the setback arbitrary and capricious adding that it was unreasonable to disallow drilling in Dallas because history shows it can be safe.

“To those persons who have continued to say there should be no gas drilling in Dallas, where would you like it to happen?" she asked. "And if you do not wish to accept any potential risk or burdens, you should not accept any benefits.”

So turn off your gas stove and don't use your car, she said.

But council member Carolyn Davis deemed Wednesday's vote a victory for residents.

“This is about neighborhoods," she said. "I appreciate the individuals who have stuck with this the past year or two to talk about what they don’t want to see in their neighborhood. I think they have a right, I think they have a voice, and I think their voice has been heard.”

With a two-thirds vote, the council can change the setback rule. It’s uncertain whether drillers will try working with the city -- or possibly sue Dallas. 

Bill Zeeble has been a full-time reporter at KERA since 1992, covering everything from medicine to the Mavericks and education to environmental issues.