NPR for North Texas
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

Arlington approves new natural gas drilling as activists publish pollution report

Arlington City Council members listen to speakers during a Feb. 27, 2024, public hearing on TotalEnergies’ natural gas drilling permit application. Total owns 31 of 51 drill sites permitted in Arlington.
Haley Samsel
Fort Worth Report
Arlington City Council members listen to speakers during a Feb. 27, 2024, public hearing on TotalEnergies’ natural gas drilling permit application.

Days after environmental advocacy group Liveable Arlington released a report on pollution emitted from Arlington’s natural gas drilling sites, Jennifer Quick stood before City Council May 28 to ask some questions. Have officials done any research beyond what natural gas companies have told them about pollution? Have they proposed ways to make residents safer?

“Fight for us. We are here, we voted you in. We are the life and blood and heart of your community. We are the teachers, the nurses, the public service individuals,” Quick, a member of Liveable Arlington, said. “We’re here doing the work that makes Arlington a great place to live, and it feels like no one’s got our back, no one’s in our corner.”

Later Tuesday night, council members unanimously approved TotalEnergies’ application to expand drilling with a 9-0 vote. The decision paves the way for Total to drill five new wells at its existing Duke site on 1011 West Harris Road, not far from Harris Road Park and the Cooper Street YMCA in southeast Arlington.

Council members will finalize their vote at their next meeting June 11 and officially decide on drilling permits later. Total anticipates drilling will begin in September and continue for seven months.

Before a dozen residents voiced their opposition, Mayor Jim Ross reminded residents of House Bill 40, a 2015 state law that prohibits cities from banning fracking or implementing regulations on drilling that are not “commercially reasonable.” Council members have frequently pointed to the law as the reason they must approve new gas well permits, citing fear of legal action against the city.

Council cannot make any decisions based on factors outside its “lawful jurisdiction,” including air quality, Ross said. Council member Barbara Odom-Wesley said her colleagues put in place every regulation they could to ensure the safety of residents.

“We’ve done all that we can do, according to our attorney’s office,” Odom-Wesley said.

When council members previously voted down new gas well permits, city staff said those decisions didn’t violate House Bill 40, Liveable Arlington executive director Ranjana Bhandari said.

“We do not buy it when you tell us it’s House Bill 40,” Bhandari said of city officials’ reluctance to vote against gas permits. “It’s something else. Perhaps it’s the money.”

In a back-and-forth with resident Tammie Carson, Ross said he took great offense to the implication that council members were influenced by money or Total’s financial contributions to the city. The city has earned more than $100 million from natural gas drilling royalties and lease payments, all of which now fund the Arlington Tomorrow Foundation.

“Our desire to serve does not warrant people telling us that we’re on the take, people telling us that we’re listening to the lies, people telling us that we’re doing everything for personal and selfish reasons,” Ross said. “People want us to take an oath, and that oath says that we will abide by the laws of the state of Texas and the U.S. Constitution, and when we abide by our oath, we get ridiculed for it.”

Mayor Jim Ross stands between a man and a woman. Ross is wearing a suit and a patterned blue shirt, with a lapel pin. Arlington City Hall stands behind him.
Camilo Diaz
Arlington Report
Mayor Jim Ross speaks to residents on March 25, 2024, outside City Hall.

Report details alleged pollution at Total’s gas drilling sites in Arlington

French energy giant TotalEnergies, known in North Texas as TEEP Barnett, owns 31 of the 51 drill sites permitted in Arlington. The company has faced criticism, most recently in February, from residents who say its operations have hurt their quality of life with heavy noise and air pollution. Meanwhile, the city remains tied up in legal action with Liveable Arlington, which filed a lawsuit against city officials in May 2023.

Now, Liveable Arlington has produced a formal report, titled “Total Disregard,” that activists say documents a six-month pattern of unregulated air pollution at drill sites across the city. Environmental activism groups Earthworks, Interfaith Center on Corporate Responsibility, Liveable Arlington, Climate Nexus and FracTracker Alliance also contributed to the report, which includes several videos of emissions.

Between August 2023 and January 2024, specialized methane-detecting cameras documented 85-plus pollution events from 24 sites in Arlington, according to the report. Of those pollution events, 75% were at sites fracking within 200 meters of homes.

The analysis was released ahead of Total’s annual shareholder meeting to pressure investors and executives to better protect the environment and public health, per the report. Bhandari said it’s hypocritical for Total to cause harmful health effects to Arlington residents while the company is banned by French law from fracking on its own soil.

Leslie Garvis, a spokeswoman for Total and TEEP Barnett, said the company has been responsive to calls from Arlington’s gas well inspectors and conducts voluntary surveys to monitor for emissions. The specialized FLIR cameras used by Liveable Arlington do not quantify emissions or analyze them for their contents, Garvis said.

“We do not have free reign to do whatever we want. We aggressively monitor our sites for emissions and fix leaks as they are found,” Garvis said. “I would also like to point out that science is presented, but science isn’t always apples to apples.”

Garvis said some of the footage showed emissions that were not from Total gas drilling sites, but compressor stations where natural gas is compressed by motors or engines. Bhandari maintains that the emissions are Total’s responsibility.

During the afternoon council meeting, Richard Gertson, the city’s assistant director of planning and development services, said city staff submitted Liveable Arlington’s findings to the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality. While Arlington employs a gas well inspector to keep sites in compliance with city ordinances, the state environmental commission is charged with enforcing laws related to emissions.

Mauricio Galante, who was elected to council in May, said he spent days visiting a Total drill site and studying the proposal. He wants emissions data that comes from an independent source.

“To me, monitoring the air and using FLIR cameras, they are great. But it’s just one more tool to get the facts,” Galante said. “It’s very important that those numbers, those videos and those facts, they are third-party. They are not from Total. They are not from the environmentalists.”

Phil Kabakoff has lived in his west Arlington home for 43 years. Between October 2023 and February 2024, TotalEnergies drilled new gas wells at a site just over 600 feet from his backyard. Kabakoff says the ongoing noise is not worth the $92 royalty check he received.
Haley Samsel
Fort Worth Report)
Phil Kabakoff has lived in his west Arlington home for 43 years. Between October 2023 and February 2024, TotalEnergies drilled new gas wells at a site just over 600 feet from his backyard. Kabakoff says the ongoing noise is not worth the $92 royalty check he received.

Activists say Arlington not following its gas well ordinance

In addition to her concerns over natural gas pollution, Bhandari also said the city violated its own ordinances by amending Total’s drill zone as part of the May 28 vote.

Originally, Total proposed a drill zone that included an older gas well within 600 feet of a home, which is considered a “protected use” by Arlington ordinance. Any drill zone within 600 feet of a protected use must earn a supermajority vote, or seven votes, to move forward.

However, council members decided to modify the size and shape of the drill zone to exclude the existing well within 600 feet of the home. Thanks to that change, Total’s application could be approved with a simple majority of five votes.

Council member Rebecca Boxall advocated for the modifications Tuesday, arguing that her intent was not to circumvent the supermajority vote. She wants to create smaller drill zones and free up more land for development rather than that land sitting inside a dormant drill site, Boxall said.

“When I hear these complaints that we’re not doing anything and we’re just deferring it; no, we are acting and we are doing things that we are allowed to do,” Boxall told residents at the council meeting. “These are areas that we have influence on, and we are exercising that influence. You’re seeing it happen.”

Bhandari, whose organization sued city officials over a similar move last year, said these changes go against Arlington’s ordinance.

“You can take (the well) out of the drawing, but it’s still in the ground, and it still pollutes, so I don’t understand that as a solution to the concern about pollution,” Bhandari said.

She added that she didn’t understand Ross’ response to health and air quality concerns raised by speakers like herself.

“The important thing is, we are all residents,” Bhandari said. “We have lived through this fracking boom. We are living through a second fracking boom. And, as an environmental organization, I actually see the concerns and the issues. What I want to say is there’s a real genuineness to it, and I don’t know how stating some of these concerns was offensive.”

Kailey Broussard is KERA’s Arlington accountability reporter. You can email Kailey Broussard at or follow them on Twitter @KaileyBroussard.

This story was produced in partnership with Haley Samsel, environmental reporter for the Fort Worth Report. You can reach them at

Kailey Broussard covers Arlington for KERA News and The Arlington Report. Broussard has covered Arlington since 2020 and began at the Fort Worth Star-Telegram before joining the station in 2021.