DALLAS — It has been debated for five long years. And on Wednesday, there was yet another 90 minutes' worth of back-and-forth.
The disagreement: Whether Dallas should permit gas drilling company Trinity East to tap underground reserves at several city sites, including park land near the Luna Vista Golf Course.
Concerned Dallas resident Claudia Meyer warned the City Council that the proposed project would become the 10th largest source of air pollution in Dallas.
A line of speakers offered equally ominous statements, which were quickly and broadly dismissed by proponents of the drilling proposal.
"We will drill safely and be good neighbors," pledged Trinity East CEO Tom Blanton.
As the crucial vote approached, there was an unusual twist. Mayor Mike Rawlings asked for a few moments to address the Council with a personal statement.
"To paraphrase Ecclesiastes: There is a place for everything under Heaven, and I don’t think the place for drilling is in Dallas," he said.
But after saying that, the mayor then encouraged the Council to vote the opposite way, in favor of the driller.
His reasoning: Years ago, Trinity East entered a contract and paid the city $19 million for the rights to drill, as long as they do it by February, 2014.
With time running out and natural gas prices low, the mayor argued the driller would probably never bother putting a hole in the ground if the sites were approved.
But if the city denies Trinity East the right to drill on the sites in question, Mayor Rawlings warned the company will likely drill the city in court instead.
"Their only chance in this poker game is one high card — that we deny this and they get to sue the city," he said.
But the Council decided to take the chance. Its final votes denied the driller the sites it had sought.
Applause erupted in the City Hall gallery, but Mayor Rawlings wondered aloud how quickly the cheers might fade.
He announced Trinity East might argue the city failed to live up to the lease contract for which it was paid $19 million. Rawlings said he has heard the company might sue the city for as much as $100 million.