About Air and Water

Monday, August 27, 2007

Grand Prairie toughens rules on gas wells near homes - Requirements for wells within 1,000 feet aren't enough, residents say

By KATHY A. GOOLSBY - The Dallas Morning News - Sat., August 25, 2007
Grand Prairie's City Council tightened its gas drilling and production ordinance last week, further restricting wells located less than 1,000 feet from homes.

But some residents say the new rules are not tough enough and will do little to discourage companies from drilling near neighborhoods.

"Oil companies don't care about those restrictions," said Frank Viso, who lives in the Grand Peninsula area near Joe Pool Lake. "If you're drilling for $55 million in gas and they charge you $10,000, that's a drop in the bucket. The only ones who are going to make anything off this is the city with the permitting."

Both the original ordinance and the amended rules allow gas drilling within 500 feet of homes. The new rules increase fees and add restrictions for wells within 1,000 feet. Requirements for such wells include additional noise abatements, such as hospital-grade mufflers and sound barriers; hard surfaces on driveways and parking areas to reduce dust; and stone walls or wrought-iron fences covered by landscaping to screen the site.

"We've also increased the fees," said Jim Cummings, the city's environmental services director. "We've doubled them. It's $5,000 now, so it'll be $10,000 for wells within 1,000 feet."

Mr. Viso said Grand Peninsula residents have been approached by a company trying to lease mineral rights in hopes of drilling wells on the west side of Lakeridge Parkway near Hanger Lowe Road. He would prefer that any wells in that area be limited to the east side of Lakeridge.

The city has approved six of the nine permit requests it has received since the ordinance was passed in September 2005, Mr. Cummings said. No permit requests have been submitted for the Lakeridge area.

Mr. Viso said residents have safety and quality-of-life concerns. Breezes from the lake blow through the proposed well sites and across the neighborhood, he said, and would carry any odors or other airborne pollutants to the residents.

Christina Kang, a state-certified residential appraiser who moved to the peninsula last year, is afraid that homes closest to the wells would decrease in value. With so much open space around the lake, she said, there is plenty of room to move wells farther from residential areas.

City Council member Ron Jensen, who represents the lake area, said officials can't tell people not to drill on their own land as long as they are following the rules.

"If I was a homeowner living on the peninsula, I wouldn't want a drilling rig behind my house either," Mr. Jensen said. "But we're not going to get into the decision-making process of telling someone he can or can't put a drill on his land. This council doesn't like interfering with individual homeowners."

The ordinance must apply throughout the city, even in areas with fewer open spaces than the peninsula, Mr. Cummings said. In more densely populated neighborhoods, disallowing wells within 1,000 feet would eliminate drilling sites near enough to bring up the gas.

State law says that mineral owners must be given access to those minerals, Mr. Cummings said.

"We're trying to strike a balance between the folks with mineral rights and the rights of residents to use their property and not be subject to nuisances," Mr. Cummings said. "When you compare our ordinance with others in the metroplex, we feel ours lines up."

Some municipalities have less-restrictive ordinances. Dallas and Arlington have a standard setback of 300 feet from homes, and Fort Worth's setback is 600 feet.

Like Grand Prairie, Flower Mound, Grapevine and Trophy Club have a more restrictive residential setback of 1,000 feet, but do not specify additional fees and restrictions for closer wells.

However, most cities have a process allowing companies to request a waiver of the distance requirements, usually by consent of all affected property owners, council approval or both.

In Grand Prairie, three-fourths of the council must approve the waiver for drilling closer than 500 feet to homes, but in no instance is a well allowed within 300 feet. State municipal code sets the minimum distance at 200 feet, but cities can impose stricter regulations.

It's the waiver possibility that concerns Ted Arrington, who lives in the Enclave at Westchester. Although no permit application has been submitted to the city, a well site has been proposed 563 feet from his home, he said.

"There are places where these wells explode, and there are four houses between mine and the site," Mr. Arrington said. "That puts six adults and at least eight children closer than me, and we have a day-care center near here. There's a lot of discomfort and worry about our children being here and what a well will do to our neighborhood."

Mr. Arrington would like the oil and gas companies to go elsewhere, but he understands that the city can't prohibit drilling. The tighter restrictions are at least a step in the right direction, he said.

"If we can't make it illegal, let's at least make it more difficult," Mr. Arrington said. "It's one more hurdle for them, but I don't think it's going to be a deterrent."
Read more in the Dallas Morning News

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