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Game Change

December 6, 2012



XTO pulls Dallas drilling requests for Hensley Field — maybe for good
2:24 pm on December 6, 2012 | Permalink

A file photo of Hensley Field from 1937

Dallas officials said the ExxonMobil subsidiary notified City Hall Wednesday night that it no longer wants the City Plan Commission to hear its case for drilling at the city’s Hensley Field.

Proposed drilling at the former Dallas Naval Air Station — not far from neighborhoods and immediately beside Mountain Creek Lake — has been among the most controversial parts of Dallas’ debate about natural gas drilling.

XTO hasn’t confirmed yet whether it’s quitting the Hensley Field for good, but signs seemed to point that way.

If XTO isn’t on the City Plan Commission’s agenda for Dec. 20, that would still leave requests from Trinity East Energy. Those plans raise different issues than XTO’s, since they are aimed at designated floodplains.

Update III, 12:45 p.m.:

Meeting all expectations, the plan commission has come back into public session to say nothing about what’s new with drilling.

Assistant planning director David Cossum is briefing the commissioners, but he’s just going over existing ordinance requirements and the recommendations of the city’s gas-drilling task force, already well-trod ground.

Cossum said he won’t be talking about any specific sites or requests for drilling.

Next chance for actual movement: Dec. 20, at the commission’s next meeting. But even that isn’t assured.

Update II, 12:21 p.m.:

The commissioners finished their box lunches going on 45 minutes ago and went straight into executive session to talk about legal matters on drilling. When the lawyers stop talking, the public briefing should start.

Update, 11:22 a.m.:

The commission is on a short break. In about 20 minutes, it will come back for a city staff briefing on drilling expected to last not a half-hour or more. Then the commission will go into closed session with city lawyers.
We’ll keep you posted, at least until we’re kicked out of the room.

The City Plan Commission has drilling on its schedule this morning.

Well, sort of. As has been the case since August, the real stuff is happening behind closed doors.

Until today’s agenda came out, it seemed like the commission might consider ExxonMobil subsidiary XTO’s renewed efforts to to drill and frack at Hensley Field, the city-owned former Dallas Naval Air Station by Mountain Creek Lake.

XTO filed new requests on Nov. 16, not long after the city attorney sent prospective drillers a letter asking to state if they still intended to sink wells in Dallas or risk losing their leases on city gas rights.

Sadly enough for those hungering for anything like real news from the plan commission about the fate of drilling applications, it was not to be.

After a city staff briefing on drilling, the commission is set to send all the outsiders outside so it can confer with city lawyers.

That’s become a recurring theme. The City Council has done that repeatedly since August and hasn’t discussed the topic in public session at all in that time.

So new new ordinance on drilling has emerged, meaning pending requests are almost certain to be governed by the existing city rules, which almost no one likes so much.

That looming realization has neighborhood and environmental groups apoplectic.

The plan commission agenda had listed the briefing and the executive session first, but the panel is running through its routine zoning cases first.

An update when anything happens. Or when it doesn’t.



By Anna Merlan Thu., Dec. 6 2012 at 3:51 PM

Back in September, using the format of a totally ridiculous board game, we recapped the fight over gas drilling on land owned by the city of Dallas. At that point, the drilling task force had long since wrapped up its work, and a vote from the City Council on new drilling regulations was imminent, we said.

We said that. But we were wrong, because here we are now with 2013 bearing down upon us, and yet the council members appear no closer to voting on a new drilling ordinance. Let that be a lesson to you: never trust board games. The silence from City Hall, meanwhile, is really pissing everybody off, environmentalists and energy company types alike.

This morning, though, somewhat significantly, the City Plan Commission had gas drilling on its agenda. The CPC is the body that will ultimately have the power to approve or deny those applications for Specific Use Permits submitted long, long ago by XTO, who want to drill in an area near Hensley Field, and Trinity East, which leased a site near LB Houston and Luna Road. The two energy companies have been trying to drill in those areas since 2008 or so, and they’ll need both an SUP and a special gas drilling permit from the city to move forward.

But very little actually happened at the CPC meeting, and now, it appears, one of the energy companies could be done trying to drill on Dallas land altogether.

The agenda called for a briefing on gas drilling from David Cossum, the city’s assistant director of sustainable development and construction, followed by an executive session to discuss “legal issues regarding gas drilling and production.” Executive sessions are closed to the public. Typically, one can estimate the ferocity of the shitstorm at hand by how long reporters, lobbyists and the odd interested member of the public are forced to stand out in the hall.

In this case, the executive session stretched on for a good 45 minutes before we were all allowed to troop back inside and listen to Cossum give a not-very-groundbreaking presentation on existing city ordinances on drilling, as well as the task force’s recommendations. Plan commissioners were told, very firmly, not to ask questions about specific sites (read: XTO and Trinity East). “That will be held for when individual cases come up,” Cossum told them.

Cossum made it clear that he thought many of the existing drilling regulations would be grandfathered in to the new ordinance. Curiously, he also claimed that a good deal of the controversy over gas drilling is focused on “noise and traffic impacts,” something which caused Zac Trahan of the Texas Campaign for the Environment to shake his head silently but furiously from the audience (TCE also opposes drilling due to public health and environmental concerns).

It’s possible that the CPC will discuss or even vote on the actual SUP permits on December 20, their next scheduled meeting. But Randy Lee Loftis at the Dallas Morning News now reports that XTO appears to have pulled their application off the table entirely . Unnamed Dallas officials told Loftis that the company “no longer wants the City Plan Commission to hear its case for drilling at the city’s Hensley Field.”

So does this mean XTO is done trying to drill in Dallas for good? Are they merely awaiting a new drilling ordinance from the City Council before proceeding? Or are they just skipping right to the lawsuit portion of the program? None of that is clear, as of yet. We called XTO, and a spokesperson said he’d look into that report; we’ll update when we hear back.

Update, 4:10 p.m.: XTO spokesperson Jeff Neu just sent us a statement, which reads, in full, “XTO Energy has asked the City of Dallas to delay Planning Commission action on our specific use permits.”

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