The City of Dallas now has one of the toughest gas drilling laws in North Texas after a long brewing showdown between drilling supporters and opponents ended on Wednesday.
A sharply divided city council adopted a recommendation from the City Plan Commission to increase the distance gas wells must be from homes, schools and businesses by a factor of five to 1,500 feet. The previous separation was set at 300 feet.
As other North Texas cities to the west and north have cashed in on the Barnett Shale natural gas deposits, Dallas has never approved a well.
In August, the City Council rejected an application to drill on city park property from a company that already paid the city millions of dollars for the lease.
Drilling supporters said Wednesday’s change makes it even harder to find acceptable well sites in Dallas.
“The Barnett Shale doesn’t change at the county line,” said drilling supporter Bill Crowder. “Are you guys out of your mind? You want to turn down an economic boon that gave Fort Worth $54 million last year?”
Dallas Mayor Mike Rawlings said the City Council heard 100 hours of citizen input in the weeks before the vote and members listened to another hour of debate about drilling issues before the decision.
“These earthquakes are already destroying homes and walls, but the fracking industry won’t pay for any of that. We will pay when our homeowners insurance goes up again,” drilling opponent Richard Guldi warned.
Drilling supporter David Martineau urged members to consider a compromise distance requirement.
“There’s a lot of places to drill in this city and it would be a shame not to take advantage of it and go ahead and get the taxes and the royalties,” he said.
Councilman Sheffie Kadane suggested a 1,000-foot requirement and Councilman Lee Kleinman was among the six members who supported that instead.
“I feel like the ordinance that has come from CPC is unreasonable and extremist legislation that I would not like to see this city council move forward,” Kleinman said.
The 1,000-foot option failed on the same 9 to 6 margin by which the council approved another compromise offered by drilling opponent, Councilman Scott Griggs.
It adds the option for relaxing the 1,500 foot setback with a two-thirds council vote on a case-by-case basis.
“We’re not saying that it can not happen, but we are saying if it should happen, there should be proper discussion,” Councilman Dwaine Caraway said.
Rawlings voted with the majority to approve the tougher rules.
“Safety is premier in this city but we’re in an energy area as well. Listening to the citizens, looking at the science I think is extremely important. I think the council has worked hard at this process,” Rawlings said.
Wednesday's session was the last regular meeting of the Dallas City Council for 2013.