The Cowtown City Council made history last night when they did something they had never done before. The council denied the request of Chesapeake Energy for a permit for a high-impact gas well near the intersection of 8th Avenue and Elizabeth Boulevard.
The permit faced determined opposition from the Ryan Place, Berkeley, and Mistletoe Heights, neighborhood associations. Most of those same residents have already signed gas leases and cashed their royalty checks. Yet apparently they were shocked to find out that getting natural gas out of the ground involves drilling a well. I suppose they thought the gas just appeared magically the way their organic lettuce does at Central Market.
While some are declaring this the dawning of a bright, new day in Cowtown, here's some sobering thoughts to ponder.
Gas Drilling Opponents May Have Won a Battle Yet Lost Their War.
The city has a Gas Drilling Task Force that is currently reviewing all the rules and regulations that cover gas drilling. Opponents have been urging the task force to recommend extending the buffer distance required from a well to a residence from the current 600 feet to something larger, like maybe 1,000 feet. The possibility that the Gas Companies will go along with such a recommendation now is absolutely zero. In fact, any attempt to increase the buffer distance would result in a lawsuit, a suit that would likely prevail. In such a suit the city might find it rather difficult to justify such a big change in the course of a couple of years, or why the city requires a buffer five times what the state does.
Councilmembers Will Now Claim Veto Power Over any High-Impact Well Permit.
When controversial zoning cases have come before the council; Members have traditionally bowed to the wishes of the councilmember whose district the subject property lies in. It appears that was the case last night with the council heeding the wishes of District 9 councilman Joel Burns, who was vocal in his opposition to the drilling permit.
Opponents may be just fine with that.
While Carter Burdette may look like he's been on the council since Jesus was in Junior High, the fact is city council terms are not for life. This new policy of approving or denying a controversial gas well request based on the wishes of the councilmember whose district is most affected might not look so great with different people on the council.
The Fort Worth City Council Cannot Legislate Economic Realities.
What most opponents of gas drilling fail to realize is this. For the vast majority of Tarrant County, the natural gas under the ground is far more valuable than anything that's on top of the ground. My own quick estimate is that Chesapeake Energy could easily purchase every property within the 600' buffer of the 8th Avenue site for less than $3,000,000.00. If Chesapeake owned all the affected land there would be no need to get a waiver and the wells would be drilled without any hearing. Now to most folks that might seem like a lot of money. But the gas under that site is worth far, far, more than $3,000,000.00. If high-impact waivers are never granted, the gas companies will opt to purchase all the affected land and drill anyway.
Should the council have granted the 8th Avenue waiver? I'm not sure. As a railroad switching yard, the site is already being put to some pretty heavy industrial use as it is. Proponents rightly point out the a gas well wouldn't be any noisier or uglier than the graffiti-painted railroad cars that are there now. On the other hand, it's been reported that the nearest residence is just 225' from the well so the case could be made that Chesapeake had no business trying to drill there.
However, 3-1/2 hour long, winner-take-all, city council sessions are definitely not the best way to make gas drilling policy either. The city needs to establish some mutually agreeable standards, stick to them, and move on.
Labels: Gas Pains