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Dallas Council Passes Gas Drilling Ordinance With Restrictions

DALLAS (CBS 11 NEWS) - The long and winding road of gas drilling in Dallas has reached its end.  The city council voted on a new ordinance on gas drilling Wednesday.

One section had been a bone of contention since the initial proposal -- how far away from populated areas and other wells is safe to drill?  The council decided that answer is 1500 feet.

Dallas Cothrum represents Trinity East, a Barnett Shale gas company that hopes to drill in Dallas and has even paid for some exploratory rights to minerals.  Now, Cothrum says that idea is effectively dead.  "You just can't drill under these conditions.  It'd require more than 250-acres of property and in an urban area it's just not possible."  He said the acreage is generally the size of Southern Methodist University.

Wednesday's vote was the climax of nearly three years of lobbying and arguing; and it continued right on up until the final vote.

People who support unbridled drilling, like Dallas geologist William Crowder, said, "The Barnett Shale doesn't change at the county line.  Are you guys out of your mind?  You're going to turn down an economic boom that gave Fort Worth $54 million last year?"

The ordinance would not change the current prohibition against drilling on park land or flood plains.  Environmental activists argued drilling would taint air, water, and cause more earthquakes like some recently experienced near Azle.

The tremors have Dallas resident Richard Guldi concerned.  "These earthquakes are already destroying homes and walls, but the fracking industry won't pay for any of that," he said.

Council member Vonciel Jones Hill was not impressed with environmental activists' logic.  "I have heard many hypotheses that claim to be science. They are not."

The biggest argument came over the 1500-foot distance between wells and homes, public areas, or each other.  There were last-ditch attempts to shorten the distance, but in the end, it remained, by a 9-6 vote.

"I think this is effectively a ban," Dallas Cothrum summed up.  "It's disappointing the city of Dallas has determined they don't want to participate in the prosperity of the Barnett Shale."

But Zach Trahan, with the Dallas chapter of the Texas Campaign for the Environment, was generally pleased.  "The ordinance that passed today was not perfect," he said.  "It has weaknesses.  But it's a huge, huge step in the right direction and we're very pleased the mayor and council voted to approve the ordinance."

Gas drilling isn't technically dead.  Companies can still apply for a special use permit.  They can also ask for a variance to the 1500-foot rule, but approval of the request would require a two-thirds council majority, not a simple majority.

(©2013 CBS Local Media, a division of CBS Radio Inc. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.)

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