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Gas Drilling Controversy Escalates At Dallas City Hall

Ari Moore

Debate over the first permits to drill for natural gas in Dallas heated up at the City Plan Commission meeting as drilling opponents alleged a backroom deal, and City Plan Commissioners delayed reconsideration of gas drilling permits on park land and in the floodplain until March 21st.

Last month, the Plan Commission rejected the permit requests, but a week later approved a re-vote on the issue.

At City Hall, drilling opponent Gary Stuard told Commissioners a back room deal revealed in a 2008 letter signed by the City Manager and Trinity East Energy is driving the second vote, and he called it a slap to the face of Dallas citizens.

“Who do you represent?" Stuard asked. "Do you represent us, or those whose only concern is profit?”

In the letter, City Manager Mary Suhm offers reasonable confidence that exceptions could be made for park land and floodplain drilling, currently prohibited, and where Trinity East wants to drill. Mayor Mike Rawlings says the city manager was within bounds.

“Ms. Suhm knows her responsibility where she can approve things and not approve things to try to help the council and potential vendors to come together," Rawlings explained. "And I think was doing that to the best of her ability. So, I don’t understand the controversy, honestly.”

Councilman Scott Griggs worked to make that letter public. He says the City Council and Park Board have repeatedly rejected drilling in parks.

“The lease that was signed the same day as the side agreement specifically proposes drilling on park land.  And the side agreement talks about the lobbying efforts that will be undertaken by city manager and staff to convince council members to change their position,” Griggs said.

He says the public needs to know all the details involving the prospect of a compressor station near soccer fields and gas wells on a golf course.   

Trinity East CEO Tom Blanton told Plan Commissioners wells operate safely, without issue, in dozens of Fort Worth park locations.

“This is not an experiment," Blanton said, leaning into the microphone.  "We’re not pioneering. This is proven technology we will be applying to these areas.”

Mayor Rawlings says the city council will take up the policy of park and floodplain drilling before the Plan Commission re-vote and recommendation to the council. Council members must ultimately make the final decision on the first natural gas drilling permits in Dallas. 

Former KERA reporter BJ Austin spent more than 25 years in broadcast journalism, anchoring and reporting in Atlanta, New York, New Orleans and Dallas. Along the way, she covered Atlanta City Hall, the Georgia Legislature and the corruption trials of Louisiana Gov. Edwin Edwards.