Dallas neighbors wary of natural gas drilling plans

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by JONATHAN BETZ

WFAA

Posted on July 19, 2010 at 7:55 PM

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DALLAS — The controversial issue of natural gas drilling could soon be coming to Dallas.

Since May, Fort Worth-based XTO Energy has applied to drill at two locations within the city. If approved by the City Council, they would be the first natural gas wells in the City of Dallas.

One proposal is to drill near the intersection of Camp Wisdom and Belt Line roads in far southern Dallas, near a housing subdivision and less than a mile from a charter school under construction.

“Maybe it’s not such a good idea,” said  homeowner Ruben Rios, who built his home here eight years ago. “Especially this close to a subdivision.”

In May, XTO also filed an application to drill at what once was Dallas Naval Air Station. Since Dallas owns the former military base, the Dallas City Council has final approval.

However, homes in neighboring Grand Prairie would be the ones closest to the well, and homeowners fear they would be the ones to feel its consequences.

“I don’t like it,” said homeowner Fred Allen. “Short, sweet, and simple —   I don’t like it.”

The drilling is proposed just a few hundred feet behind Allen’s backyard.

“The noise could keep me up. I don’t know what the drilling would do, as far as the value of my home dropping,” he said.

Dallas requires only a 300-foot buffer between homes and natural gas rigs. Critics insist that’s not far enough.

Other cities, including Fort Worth, require at least 600 feet of separation between homes and drilling sites.

“I hear the stories of other neighborhoods in other areas,” Ruben said, referring to a moratorium on drilling. “If you’re going to drill, drill out in the suburbs — way out in the suburbs, or further out in rural areas.”

Dallas hasn’t yet scheduled a public hearing for either proposal, and the Dallas City Council must first approve drilling plans. City leaders point out that Council members may impose even greater safety restrictions and buffers.

This comes as natural gas drilling comes under increasing scrutiny from neighboring cities; some have halted drilling altogether for health and environmental concerns.

Tarrant County has been the focus of much of the exploration of the mineral-rich Barnett Shale. But part of that massive natural gas reservoir extends beneath western Dallas County.

“Natural gas drilling flew under the radar for several years,” said Wendel Withrow, chair of the Dallas Sierra Club. “But now the biggest one you're finding out is dangerous chemicals — like benzene — are released during the actual drilling process.”

The natural gas industry has insists drilling is safe, and that it takes extra precautions to protect its neighbors.

In 2008, the Dallas City Council, facing a budget shortfall, leased the rights to drill on 2,200 acres of city-owned land — much of it in western Dallas.

Two drilling companies, XTO Energy and Trinity East Energy, agreed to pay the city $34 million for the rights to drill for natural gas.

Much of the land involved is rural. However, sites available for drilling include the Dallas Naval Air Station (also known as Hensley Field), Love Field Airport, and the L.B. Houston golf course in North Dallas.

“(The City of Dallas) should look at those other cities and say there is a problem — at least a potential problem,” Withrow said. “They should put a moratorium on those drilling permits until these questions can be answered.”

Indeed, the energy companies may face fierce resistance when they apply to actually drill within Dallas.

The companies must get zoning approval from the Council for each drilling site; some council members have vocally opposed that procedure.

E-mail jbetz@wfaa.com

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