DALLAS — The City of Dallas has a full-fledged gas drilling controversy on its hands.
In December, the City Plan Commission rejected Dallas’ first-ever, natural gas drilling permit. With little explanation, the Commission then decided to reconsider its own decision.
That happens on Thursday.
Experts say it didn't have to be this way. The City Council appointed a Gas Drilling Task Force, which wrote 20 pages of blue ribbon recommendations that aim to protect both citizens and drilling companies.
That was four months ago, and the Council still has not debated the proposals.
"I would have hoped that the Council would've taken a more broad look at it and addressed it,” said Lois Finkelman, a former Dallas City Council member who chaired the Drilling Task Force. “Maybe set aside those issues that were too controversial now or needed even more research than the task force put into it.”
Currently, there is no gas drilling in Dallas.
It's Fort Worth that sits right on top of the Barnett Shale rock formation that holds so much natural gas. Geologic maps show the Barnett abruptly stops at a line that runs through the western part of Dallas.
But the part that runs under Dallas has never been explored.
Two gas companies — XTO and Trinity East — which paid a combined $38 million in lease money to the city to find out what's lurking beneath a few remote spots in Dallas.
Ed Ireland, with the Barnett Shale Energy Education Council, says the industry is eager to see how productive Dallas wells can be.
"The potential is great,” he said.
The most controversial recommendations from the Drilling Task Force would — in certain situations — permit drilling in parks and flood plains, which both XTO and Trinity East are requesting.
Finkelman supported that very limited drilling because it included a host of other protections.
Terry Welch, also a Drilling Task Force member, disagreed with those findings on environmental grounds.
"There's a lot of uncertain science right now about the health effects of gas drilling," he said. "So, to have gas wells in a parkland where people congregate certainly caused me some concerns."
But Welch does agree with Finkelman that the City of Dallas would be far better off having strong rules in place before considering drilling applications.
On that score, they have another ally: Ed Ireland, with the Barnett Shale Council. He also agrees that Dallas needs better rules.
"Yes, the rules need to be clearly defined. And the sooner the better,” Ireland said.
But not soon enough for Thursday's potentially contentious hearing.