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Texas Cities Wrestle with Urban Drilling Rules

March 26, 2012

DALLAS - As drilling companies seek to tap huge reserves of natural gas using modern technologies, some cities are finding it tricky to write new rules for hydraulic fracturing in residential areas. "Fracking" injects high volumes of water and chemicals into shale formations to release the gas.

All eyes are now on the Dallas City Council, as it attempts to satisfy both residents and industry. At issue is precisely where fracking will be allowed, according to Zac Trahan with Texas Campaign for the Environment.

"Will it be close to people's homes, schools, hospitals? Inside the flood plain? Inside park land? There are water issues - whether they'd be allowed to continue using millions of gallons of water even under drought conditions - and there are public safety issues."

Trahan cites a new Colorado study that found increased cancer and other health risks for people living up to a half-mile from fracking operations because of toxic air pollution from wells. Dallas officials are contemplating allowing drilling within 500 feet of homes.

Claudia Meyer fears city leaders may sacrifice neighborhoods in exchange for multi-million-dollar industry lease payments. She will speak Tuesday night at a citywide informational meeting on behalf of her Mountain Creek neighborhood in southwest Dallas. It would be practically unrecognizable if pending drilling plans there are approved, Meyer warns.

"It's such a beautiful environmental area, with rolling hills and open land, and floodplains and streams. For the city to do industrialization - it's just totally against what the citizens want."

Fracking operations have been exempt from certain state and federal rules, such as parts of the Safe Drinking Water Act that require companies to disclose the chemicals they inject into the ground. Companies have argued they need to protect trade secrets, but Trahan says they should not receive special treatment.

"Gas drilling should just be treated like other industrial operations, subject to the same laws and the same rules as other economic development."

Natural gas is a relatively clean fuel, Trahan notes, and says he does not oppose all fracking. His organization has mounted a letter-writing campaign at www.TexasEnvironment.org to prompt Dallas officials to adopt what he calls "common-sense restrictions." The City Council is expected to finalize a new fracking ordinance by summer.

The citywide informational meeting will be held Tuesday at 7 p.m., at the Center for Community Cooperation, 2900 Live Oak St.; more information is at www.texasenvironment.org.

The Colorado study is available at http://bit.ly/GzoMdW.

Peter Malof, Public News Service - TX