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Dallas City Hall Stalls Resident’s Inquiry About Drilling Near Dams and Levees

May 29, 2012

September 8, 2011, Dallas citizen Raymond Crawford filed an ‘Open Records Request” on the Dallas City Hall website asking for copies of  any communications between Dallas City Hall and the Army Corps of Engineers with regards to drilling in Dallas and the effects on Joe Pool Dam.

Currently, a Special Use Permit is waiting approval by XTO Energy to set up shale gas drilling on Luminant Energy property at the corner of FM 1382 and West Camp Wisdom Road. This site is in Dallas city limits but sits in close proximity to the Joe Pool Dam. Crawford received numerous letters from both Dallas City Hall and State Attorney Greg Abbot showing that there was a scramble as to who could release what information to the resident. In the end, Attorney General Abbott wrote that his office had no problem with holding back any information. Apparently, Dallas City Hall did have a problem with releasing the information since as of today, Crawford still has not received any records from Dallas City Hall.

SEE COMMUNICATIONS FROM DALLAS CITY HALL AND ATTORNEY GENERAL GREG ABBOTT BELOW

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In today’s Dallas News, writer Randy Loftis wrote about Dallas City Councilman Scott Grigg’s concern for potential drilling adjacent to the Joe Pool Dam.

DALLAS MORNING NEWS LINK

By RANDY LEE LOFTIS

Environmental Writer

rloftis@dallasnews.com

Published: 28 May 2012 10:56 PM

 

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is so concerned that natural-gas drilling and hydraulic fracturing might damage its dams and levees that it doesn’t want any wells within 3,000 feet of them.Not so the city of Dallas. Already, it has collected millions of dollars by leasing out possible gas-drilling land that’s slap up against its Dallas Floodway levees — land that would be undrillable if Dallas adopted the corps’ policy.

Proposals for a new city ordinance don’t call for any mandatory space between drilling or fracking sites and the systems that keep floods out of homes and neighborhoods.They do, however, advocate no-drill zones for a range of other land uses, such as for schools, churches, houses, big offices and recreational areas.

Other land uses besides levees that would be exempt from specific setback requirements under the new rules include cemeteries, mausoleums and taxidermy shops.One City Council member wants dams and levees to get more protection than the places that mount deer heads and champion bass.

“The burden of proof is on the industry” to prove drilling and fracking don’t threaten dams, said council member Scott Griggs, whose district includes neighborhoods near the Dallas Floodway and the Corps of Engineers’ Joe Pool Lake.

Griggs was a member of a city task force that spent eight months working on suggestions for a new city drilling ordinance. The council heard a briefing on the task force’s recommendations on May 16 but might still be months from a vote. Mayor Mike Rawlings asked for more information before a decision.Council members’ reactions to the briefing ranged from praising drilling’s safety record and economic benefits to worrying about risks from water and air pollution.

Lack of protection

Griggs, one of the council’s skeptics on drilling, said the lack of specific protection for dams, levees, floodgates, pumping stations and other safeguards for life and property is a hole that needs plugging.

It’s a case that other critics of gas development have also made.Griggs said he will try to include a mandatory 3,000-foot buffer between the levees and gas operations in the new city ordinance. The gas-drilling task force didn’t make that recommendation. “It’s not something they addressed,” he said.

Former council member Lois Finkelman, who chaired the gas-drilling task force, said the topic spurred little discussion. But she added that one task force recommendation should take care of any concerns.“I think the task force felt they had covered this with respect to the levees when they included the corps in the approval requirement for consideration of any drilling in the floodplain,” Finkelman said.

The Corps of Engineers is worried about potential harm to flood-control structures from underground disturbances that come with drilling and fracking.After gas drillers in North Texas’ Barnett Shale and other shale gas fields drill the wells, they force millions of gallons of chemically treated water into the holes under extreme pressure to break the rock and free trapped gas.

The corps doesn’t have hard evidence that fracking near a dam might damage it, but neither is the practice confirmed as dam-safe. Near Joe Pool Lake, for example, the corps wants to block a Chesapeake Energy venture.In a letter to Grand Prairie officials last year, the corps said its engineers believe the five-well complex “may increase the risk to the [Joe Pool Lake] project, and possibly contribute to a catastrophic dam failure.”

Risks studied

For months, a nationwide team from the corps and other federal agencies and outside experts has been searching for what’s known and unknown about possible risks from mineral extraction near dams.The goal is to create a system that will let corps managers set a site-specific buffer zone around a dam or other structure, said Anita Branch, a geotechnical engineering specialist with the corps’ Fort Worth district.

The distance between a dam and drilling in different places might be bigger or smaller depending on local geology, geography and other factors, she said.Although the corps is looking first at its own operations, any local government would be able to use the system to make its own decisions on safety zones around non-corps dams and levees, Branch said.

Until such a system is in place, the corps’ Southwestern division, which includes Texas and surrounding states, is keeping a 3,000-foot buffer around its dams and levees. “The 3,000 feet was based largely on geology in the Southwestern district,” Branch said.

The corps can only flatly prohibit activities on land it owns, which leaves gaps in its ability to hold gas drilling at bay.However, it can request that cities or other authorities make drilling permits near its structures subject to corps approval. Dallas owns the levees and the land between them, but the corps is deeply involved in reviewing, approving and paying for the city’s flood-control improvements.

Even without the task force’s recommendation for corps approval of drilling in the floodplain, corps officials would make themselves heard in any decisions involving the levees. Griggs said that was fine with him.

“This is a safety issue,” the council member said. “The corps is quite serious about this.”

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UPDATE AS OF MAY 29, 2012

Last week, Crawford sent an email to the city attorney’s office asking the status of the request but was told that the “open records office’ would be in touch. He is still waiting to hear.

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