The Dallas City Council voted Wednesday to require any gas wells to be placed at least 1,500 feet from homes, a move that the gas industry says might as well be a ban on drilling. Combined with the fact that the council would still have to approve any permit for a drilling site, factoring in neighborhood impact, fracking opponents are calling the ordinance a victory as well. A two-thirds council vote would be needed to alter the setback requirement in particular cases.
Fossil fuel companies have been trying drill on land leased in Dallas since 2007. The city sits on the eastern edge of the Barnett shale, which is less productive than the rest of the highly-lucrative western portion. But Dallas has yet to approve a drilling permit in town, and the new setback requirement is likely to make new wells even less likely.
The fossil fuel industry site Energy In Depth quickly called Dallas’ ordinance a dishonest backdoor ban on fracking, noting that in Fort Worth, where the setback requirement is 600 feet, “development has safely occurred for many years.” But a look at Fort Worth residents’ experience with drilling shows why neighboring Dallas would want stricter requirements. Sickening vapors, ruined neighborhoods, and wells as close as 300 feet to homes are the legacy of Fort Worth’s lax approach to fracking regulation.
Nearby Arlington, Texas allows fracking inside of city limits, and has attempted to mitigate negative effects on residents by building sound-dampening walls around operations. But much of the danger of fracking comes from what it does to air and water.
There’s no evidence that even 1,500 feet is enough to prevent chemical leakage into drinking water. A 2012 Duke University study found that homes within one kilometer, or 3,280 feet, of hydraulic fracturing wells had six times the methane and 23 times the ethane of homes not near wells. And an Earthworks report included video of toxic chemicals like benzene escaping into the air at drilling sites.
Sharon Wilson, an organizer with the anti-fracking group Earthworks, said that though the industry is calling the Dallas ordinance a de facto ban, the fact that the setback requirement can be waived means Dallas isn’t safe from fracking.
A developing case in Pennsylvania highlights the hazards of fracking to surrounding areas. In 2010 a drilling company allegedly spilled at least 21,000 gallons of flowback water into an environmentally sensitive waterway, then covered it up and prevented it from being reported. To make matters worse, the driller admitted in court that they don’t even know all of the chemicals in the water. State Representative Jesse White is calling for an investigation of the incident, which was unknown until reported by the Marcellus Monitor on December 7, 2013.
Sharon Wilson said that it was the gas industry’s own practices that were leading to such restrictive measures as Dallas’ ordinance. She said in an email that rejection of fracking is growing, even among people who used to be friendly to the practice. “If the door is closed, it’s the industry’s own fault,” Wilson said.