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Dallas Proposes Tighter Gas Drilling Restrictions

DALLAS (CBS 11 NEWS) - Fort Worth is no stranger to natural gas drilling, but it's a different matter in Dallas. On Thursday, the Dallas Plan Commission came to a surprise conclusion to possibly tighten regulations.

The plan commission wants to amend the current drilling ordinances since the advent of fracking and development of the Barnett Shale. It's not known exactly how far the Barnett Shale may extend under Dallas city proper. But the issue of drilling using the hydraulic fracturing process, called fracking, is prompting the city to amend existing natural gas drilling rules, even though there are no rigs yet inside city limits.

It's a touchy issue. Protests marked city hall over the winter and this spring over initial plans to allow drilling close to homes or on city-owned park lands. It prompted the city to create a special task force and review policies.

On Thursday, the plan commission took a conservative approach to how close rigs could be to homes and businesses. It tentatively proposed a 15-hundred foot setback between a drilling rig and the nearest residence or business...and even with a special circumstance waiver, no closer than one thousand feet. The existing ordinance calls for 300 feet; the task force recommendation is 500.

"I think we're always going to have opposition, especially on gas drilling, it's just something that people are not familiar with and concerned with. So we'll make sure we craft an ordinance to amend the ordinance for the safety and personnel and the city of Dallas," said Joe Alcantar, chair of the plan commission.

He says the commission wants to use task force recommendations as a guide to amend the existing ordinance. And he wants to get it done before many of his members' commissions expire in September; they're appointed by the city council and new council members are sworn in next Monday.

"We'll have new commissioners, I'd hate to pass this on to a new CPC so we'll try to get this completed by the end of August."

Opponents of fracking are encouraged by today's action, even if it is tentative.

"That's stronger than what the task force originally recommended and much stronger than our current ordinance and we fully support it," said Zac Trahan, program director of the Texas Campaign For The Environment. Trahan was one of a handful of activists following the plan commission's discussions. They still oppose drilling at recreation areas.

"We think the new ordinance should not allow gas drilling on city-owned parklands or within 1500-feet of recreational areas."

The next meeting is July 11th. They'll talk about quality of life issues like noise and dust.

Lobbyists for the drilling companies wouldn't go on camera, but complain the proposed rules are overreaching and send a message that there's really a moratorium on drilling in Dallas.

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