It was a triumph of hysteria over common sense, a thrashing of science at the hand of ignorance, capitulation to a small but loud minority of NIMBY protestors. The City of Dallas has passed one of the strictest drilling ordinances in the country. 

The ordinance amounts to a defacto ban on future drilling because of the requirement that no well can be closer than five football fields from a home, school or other “protected use”.  For perspective, walk off 1,500 feet down the street in front of your house and ponder whether such a distance is necessary if the real goal is to balance the interests of homeowners with those of mineral owners and the taxpayers.  

Other essentially sound provisions are rendered meaningless by the 1,500 foot setback:

  • Requirements for base line sampling and testing of air, soil, ambient noise levels, water wells and surface water and an initial gas analysis or raw gas produced.
  • Limitations on noise levels and requirements for noise mitigation.
  • Limitations on hours of operation of different phases of drilling.
  • Requirements on inventory of hazardous materials and chemicals.
  • Required tagging of fracturing fluid to enable tracing of the fluid to a specific pad site.
  • Incident-reporting requirements.
  • Site maintenance requirements.
  • Requirements for reduced emission completion techniques.
  • Required emissions compliance plan if a site receives two or more air quality violations in any 12-month period.
  • Provisions for seismic survey permitting.
  • Regulation of pipelines.

One need only to look at our neighbor to the west, Fort Worth, with its 6oo-foot setback, for evidence of an ordinance that allows safe and profitable drilling operations.  In Dallas, the council even ignored the recommendation of their own task force comprised of citizens from both sides of the debate for a 1,000 foot setback.

The winners and losers

The losers aren’t oil and gas operators. I was asked, What will the drillers do now? That’s easy: Take their sizable job-producing and tax revenue enhancing investments elsewhere.

The losers are Dallas taxpayers, whose leaders have left potentially large tax revenues and royalty income in the ground, and mineral owners, whose once-valuable assets will not be developed.

The winners are no-nothing environmental protestors. Their arguments have either been debunked or were not science-based in the first place. 

The cynic in me wonders if the Council tried to create another loser: Trinity East Energy, the producer who paid the city $19 million in lease bonus, to be told that no drilling permits would be issued.  One wonders if a “strict” regulation, rather than an outright ban, is calculated to give the City a leg up if Trinity East were to sue for the return of their bonus.     

My own council member Jennifer Staubach Gates and my friend Sandy Greyson, whose other decisions have been sound, voted in favor. I hope they will be stronger and smarter in the future.

It’s like we’re in California, but without the ocean views.

UPDATE: I found the song that perfectly reflects the council’s love for the environmental reactionaries and NIMBYs: