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Arlington residents urge city to consider public health as council approves new gas wells

A sign reading "no trespassing. violators will be prosecuted" hangs on a fence outside of a natural gas drilling operation near AT&T Stadium in Arlington.
Cristian ArguetaSoto
/
Fort Worth Report
A natural gas drilling rig operates near AT&T Stadium in Arlington on Jan. 12, 2023. Arlington City Council approved permits for five new gas wells at 1011 West Harris Road on Tuesday, June 26, 2024.

Arlington City Council continued to field protests from environmental advocates Tuesday as it approved permits for expanded natural gas drilling at a southeast Arlington site.

Rogelio “Rojo” Meixueiro of the environmental activism group Sunrise Tarrant was among the residents who spoke out against the permit application submitted by French energy giant TotalEnergies, known in North Texas as TEEP Barnett. He and other advocates asked council members to work with state legislators to improve fracking regulations.

“I think I need y’all to be brave and ask them to do their jobs,” Meixueiro said.

In a 7-0 vote, council members approved both a new zone where five new gas wells will be drilled, as well as permits for each individual site. At-large council members Barbara Odom-Wesley and Bowie Hogg were absent.

Council members argued they’re doing everything they are allowed to do within limitations set by House Bill 40, a 2015 state law that prohibits cities from banning fracking or implementing drilling regulations not considered “commercially reasonable.”

Asked whether members supported the law, District 5 Council Member Rebecca Boxall said she did not.

“It’s on all of us to call our state representatives and tell them we want more local control,” she said. “It’s not just this council.”

Boxall advocated for Total to reshape the boundaries of the drill zone. It originally sat about 580 feet from the nearest residential home — about 20 feet less than the minimum required distance from certain structures.

Amalia Willard, who has lived at her home since drilling began in the area, initially granted the city a waiver for setback requirements, according to emails obtained by KERA. However, she revoked her support in late May because of concerns about emissions.

“I thought, well, there’s going to be a lot more pollution, then,” Willard said.

However, revised maps presented Tuesday put the drill zone at around 604 feet from the nearest home. The revision meant that Total would no longer need a supermajority vote from Arlington City Council to approve the site.

“We’re using that authority,” Boxall said. “You may not agree with what we decide, but we are using that authority.”

Meixueiro said after the meeting Boxall and other council members could do more to protect residents.

“She just told us a story of how she’s trying her best, but that’s not enough," he said. "That’s just simply not enough."

Armed with a recent study by Earthworks that documented pollution at Arlington gas wells, environmental advocacy organization Liveable Arlington called for the city to conduct air monitoring. The study used forward-looking infrared (FLIR) cameras to detect emissions.

Council Member Raul Gonzalez said he asked the city’s gas well division to forward the Earthworks study to the state environmental commission.

Leslie Garvis, a representative for Total, said the company has analyzed video footage in the Earthworks report and found the emissions came from a natural gas compressor station rather than the drill site. Once the gas leaves Total’s drill site, it is no longer under their control, she said.

She added that the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality has not issued any air quality violations at the company’s Arlington drill sites. However, Arlington residents have voiced complaints about odor and emissions issues, and the company has previously been in the spotlight for incidents in west and east Fort Worth.

“We never said we don’t have (emissions) leaks. We have a robust program to deal with leaks,” Garvis said. “We quickly and immediately fix those leaks. We do not wait 30 days to fix those leaks.”

Earthworks campaign manager Josh Eisenfeld told KERA his organization has documented oil and gas pollution for over a decade. The thermographer who conducted the study, Eisenfeld said, formerly worked with the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality to develop the state's thermography program.

"There's no doubt a significant amount of pollution is coming from TEP's well sites. Not just the Duke pad — all of them," Eisenfeld said. "And it's right next to homes and daycares. We welcome the city council to come out with us so we can show them what they're seeing."

Total anticipates drilling will begin on 1011 West Harris Road, not far from Harris Road Park and the Cooper Street YMCA in southeast Arlington, in September and continue for seven months.

This story was updated July 1, 2024, to include response from Earthworks.

Got a tip? Email Kailey Broussard at kbroussard@kera.org. You can follow Kailey on Twitter @KaileyBroussard.

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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.