About Air and Water

Friday, February 29, 2008

At energy forum, Clinton issues call for cleaner fuels

By DAVID IVANOVICH and LINDSAY WISE - Houston Chronicle - Feb. 29, 2008

Democrat Hillary Rodham Clinton on Thursday challenged the oil industry to lead the way to develop cleaner sources of energy to help tackle the nation's growing energy security problem.

"It is time for the oil companies to become energy companies," Clinton said.

Appearing before a crowd of more than 800 at the George R. Brown Convention Center just days ahead of Tuesday's Texas primary, Clinton likened the need to deal with the nation's energy security woes to the beginnings of the space race.

"We will get back to what we did so successfully after Sputnik went up," Clinton said.

Clinton was alone among the presidential hopefuls to join what was largely an energy industry crowd at the Greater Houston Partnership's America's Energy Future: Houston's Presidential Summit.

And despite that audience, she reiterated her pledge to end tax subsidies for the oil companies and to redirect that money to create new energy sources.

"I do not believe that now is the time when subsidies for the oil companies are necessary and appropriate," Clinton said. Instead, "it is now time to subsidize new forms of energy."

Less than two hours later, she attended a rally of an estimated 5,000 enthusiastic supporters in northwest Houston.

Reaction from the summit crowd, by contrast, was polite but fairly tepid, with business leaders remaining largely silent through most of the speech. About 150 members of the general public, who bagged free tickets for the event provided the most exuberant response.

"I thought it was terrific," said Colleen O'Brien of Pearland, who was impressed with the great detail of what Clinton called "more than a plan ... a strategy."

William Sweeney, Jr., vice president of government affairs for EDS, called it a "gutsy speech," coming to Houston to express a point of view that many in the audience didn't share.

With oil prices shooting up nearly $3 on Thursday to set a new record of $102.59 a barrel, Clinton told of meeting a man in largely rural southern Ohio who drives 71 miles to work and said the greatest economic challenge his family faces are gasoline prices.

If elected, Clinton said she would create a new National Energy Council, patterned after the National Economic Council and the National Security Council to deal with energy issues.

Clinton's speech capped off a day-long event featuring top executives addressing topics such as energy supply, conservation and renewable energy sources. And she has a very different view than much of the oil and gas industry.

She opposes, for instance, opening up the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge — believed to be the largest, untapped oil deposit left onshore in the United States — to oil and gas exploration.

But then her Democratic rival, Barack Obama, as well as John McCain, the likely Republican nominee, likewise oppose opening the refuge to drilling.

Clinton sole candidate to participate
Partnership officials had tried for months to attract all the presidential hopefuls to speak at the energy summit.
"Sen. Clinton is the only presidential candidate who saw the necessity of coming to this great summit," said U.S. Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee, D-Houston, a Clinton supporter. Clinton's presence at the forum "says she's willing to listen. She's willing to engage," Jackson Lee said.

Shell Oil Co. President John Hofmeister said Houston business leaders were "naturally disappointed" that other candidates declined to attend.

"But we don't tell presidential candidates where to spend their days," Hofmeister said.

While her views may be at odds with the oil and gas industry, Clinton still has received more money from the sector than any of the other remaining presidential hopefuls.

The most recent campaign finance reports filed by the candidates show Clinton has received $792,588 from energy and natural resources sector in this 2008 presidential race, according to the Washington-based watchdog Center for Responsive Politics.

That's more than both Obama — with $727,801 in contributions from the sector — has received and even more than McCain, who has picked up $630,650 in donations, the group said, using Federal Election Commission data released as of Feb. 20.

Rally at Delmar Fieldhouse
Following her summit speech, Clinton attended a late-night rally at the Delmar Fieldhouse in northwest Houston, where she told supporters, who were warmed up before her arrival by a mariachi band and a female Elvis impersonator, that she would win Texas.
"I have a feeling, and it's beginning to grow," Clinton told the crowd. "We are going to make it happen on Tuesday."

A Clinton aide said the campaign estimated 5,000 were drawn to the 6,000-seat arena.

Some like Bob Schoellkoph, 69, and his friend Axel Olsen, 64, arrived three hours before the doors opened to be first in line for the event.

"I've always been a Yellow Dog Democrat, all my life," said Schoellkoph, a real estate agent. "I support Hillary because she can carry on the legacy of President Clinton, which was really super, and she can pull us out of the deep ditch the Republicans got us in."

Read more in the Houston Chronicle

Thursday, February 28, 2008

Art Hall Accepts Thousands From Valero PAC, Employees

Hall Previously Claimed Valero Told Him His Wife's Position With The Firm Constituted No Conflict Of Interest
Vince Leibowitz - February 28, 2008

AUSTIN--Former San Antonio City Councilman Art Hall has accepted more than $5,000 in contributions from Valero Energy's political action committee and several of its employees, according to records from the Texas Ethics Commission.

On February 8, Hall received a $5,000 contribution from the Valero Political Action Committee, a PAC notorious for giving thousands of dollars to Texas' most conservative Republicans-- and Railroad Commissioner Michael L. Williams, the man Hall and Dale Henry (D-Lampasas) seek to replace in the November general election.

In addition to the $5,000 from Valero's PAC, Hall also took more than $2,000 from Valero employees and attorneys in late January and February. According to Hall's most recent filing with the Texas Ethics Commission, he received the following contributions from Valero employees and attorneys:

Robert Bower, Valero Attorney, $500 2/23
Theodore Guidry, Valero employee, $500, 1/26
Diane Hirsch, Valero Attorney, $300, 2/23
Martin Loeber, Valero Attorney, $500, 2/23
Rich Walsh, Valero Attorney, $1,500, 2/23
Parker Wilson, Valero Attorney, $500, 2/23

"The money that Art Hall has accepted from Valero's PAC and its employees is especially troubling given the fact that he is very connected to Valero through the fact that his wife is an attorney for Valero," said Vince Leibowitz, campaign director for Dale Henry, Hall's principal opponent.

According to Hall's Personal Financial Statement on file with the Texas Ethics Commission, Hall's wife owns between 5,000 and 9,999 shares of stock in Valero which, if sold, would represent a net gain of $10,000 to $24,999.

"All of this is especially disturbing given the fact that Art Hall is actually getting advice from Valero on what constitutes a conflict of interest for his campaign," said Leibowitz.

At a forum in Decatur on January 29, Hall was asked if he believed it constituted a conflict of interest that his wife, Stephanie Hall, is an attorney for Valero considering the Railroad Commission regulates the oil and gas industry. Hall told the audience that he had contacted Valero and that he was advised by the company that her work would not constitute a conflict of interest for him.

"Art Hall is getting ethics advice and money from Valero energy. What else is he getting from them? Are they advising him on energy policy as well? Art Hall represents no departure from the current rubber-stamp culture at the Texas Railroad Commission where Commissioners take thousands of dollars from oil company PACs and their employees and then give them whatever they want without regard for the best interest of Texas consumers or the environment," Leibowitz said.

"Valero's PAC is notorious for giving large sums of money to Republicans and pet conservative causes," Leibowitz said. "Valero has given Railroad Commissioner Michael L. Williams $20,000. Now Art Hall is taking Valero's money and telling Texans that he will bring 'balance' to the Texas Railroad Commission. What kind of 'balance' is that, exactly? The kind of 'balance' where Hall will simply be another hand out taking money from the oil industry? That's not 'balance,' that is merely more of the same," Leibowitz continued.

Valero has given incumbent Railroad Commissioner Michael L. Williams $10,000 on two occasions: once less than a year ago on June 28, 2007, and once on June 7, 2002. Valero has also contributed to some of Texans most anti-consumer, counter-progressive Republicans and Republican causes.

The company's PAC gave $15,000 to Tom Craddick's "Stars Over Texas" Leadership PAC ($10,000 on 10/11/06 and $5,000 on 10/25/04), and $30,000 to Speaker Craddick's personal campaign account since 2004 ($10,000 on 11/08/05 and $10,000 on 11/5/07, and $10,000 on 11/10/04). A small sampling of Valero's contributions to Republicans include:

Texas Conservative Coalition ($2,500 on 9/10/07)
Former State Rep. Joe Nixon ($1,000 on 3/5/04)
Lt. Governor David Dewhurst ($10,000 on 11/6/03)
Attorney General Greg Abbott ($10,000 on 7/11/03)
Railroad Commissioner Victor Carrillo ($5,000 on 1/29/04)
U.S. Senator John Cornyn ($2,500 while Cornyn was Texas' AG on 11/7/2000)
State Rep. Phil King ($2,500 on 10/23/07)
Texas Agriculture Commissioner Todd Staples ($5,000 on 11/27/07)
Former State Rep. Talmadge Heflin ($1,000 on 11/9/04)

The Valero-tied contributions aren't the only suspect contributions Hall has received as a candidate. While on the San Antonio City Council, Hall accepted money from executives and employees of the HB Zachry company, a San Antonio-based company which has paired with Spanish company Cintra and, in March 2005, signed a comprehensive development agreement authorizing $3.5 million in planning for the first phase of the controversial Trans-Texas Corridor. Hall accepted a $500 contribution from HB Zachry on April 26, 2005 and a $250 contribution from J.P. Zachry on August 8, 2005. As a San Antonio City Councilman, Hall also took money from Valero's PAC on May 3, 2005 ($500).

At the January 29 forum in Decatur, Hall also failed to state a position on a question that asked whether or not he favored continued development of the Trans-Texas Corridor, which will include "designated utility zones" which will facilitate the transport of oil and natural gas and could have a significant negative impact on Texas' environment and groundwater.

Henry faces Art Hall of San Antonio and Mark Thompson of Hamilton in the March 4 Democratic Primary. The winner of the March 4 Democratic Primary will face Commissioner Michael L. Williams in the general election.

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Williams' Acceptance Of Super Bowl Tickets Highlights Need For Contribution Reform For RRC

By Vince Leibowitz - Dale Henry Campaign - Feb. 13, 2008

AUSTIN--Following revelations by the Fort Worth Star-Telegram that Railroad Commissioner Michael L. Williams accepted free Super Bowl tickets from a lobbyist for CenterPoint Energy in 2004, the Dale Henry Campaign released the following statement:
"This episode highlights the need for real campaign finance reform for the Texas Railroad Commission," said Dale Henry (D-Lampasas).

"The Texas Railroad Commissioners should not have such a cozy relationship with the industries they regulate. It just promotes the continued rubber-stamp culture of the Commission. Of course, given the culture of the Texas Railroad Commission, I suppose it should come as no surprise to us that a sitting Railroad Commissioner would take Super Bowl tickets from a CenterPoint Energy Lobbyist and then turn around and vote on cost-of-service rate increases that are passed on directly to consumers," said Vince Leibowitz, Campaign Director.

"This is exactly why I've proposed my "Texans First Campaign Finance Reform" package," said Henry. "The members of the Texas Railroad Commission should not take money from--and should not be beholden to--the industries they regulate. This is why I plan to, as Railroad Commissioner, ask the Texas Legislature to pass a campaign finance bill that will prohibit the practice of Railroad Commissioners accepting money from the industries they regulate," Henry said.

Dale Henry, a petroleum engineer with more than four decades of experience in the oil and gas service industry, is the most experienced candidate in the race for Texas Railroad Commission. Henry is endorsed by State Rep. Garnet Coleman (D-Houston), the Stonewall Democrats of San Antonio, The Harris County Democrats, the Houston GLBT Political Caucus, The Austin GLBT Political Caucus, Stonewall Democrats of Austin, longtime progressive leader David Van Os and other individuals listed on his campaign website.

Henry faces Art Hall of San Antonio and Mark Thompson of Hamilton in the March 4 Democratic Primary. The winner of the March 4 Democratic Primary will face Commissioner Michael L. Williams in the general election.

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Jim Foster: New initiative will help the county clear the air - A new initiative will get some of the county's heaviest polluters off the road

VBy Jim Foster - Dallas News - \Wednesday, January 9, 2008

Why is your neighbor's smoking vehicle the county's business? Because pollution affects the quality of life of our residents and we have the opportunity and responsibility to do something about it.

We all understand that vehicle emissions are responsible for the majority of our air pollution problems. However, recent statistics show that over 300,000 of the 1.6 million vehicle inspections in Dallas County during 2006 were fraudulent, fictitious or improperly done. An estimated 10 percent of the vehicles on the road spew out almost 50 percent of the pollution. The air that we breathe cannot improve if we continue to allow thousands of high polluting vehicles to clog our air.In hopes of tackling the number of high polluting vehicles on our streets, Dallas County has taken the lead in forming an unprecedented coalition of sheriff's deputies, constables, district attorneys and the Texas Department of Public Safety to target and prosecute the inspectors who perform fraudulent emissions inspections. The county's action is not only in support of the State Implementation Plan to bring us within federal air quality standards, but also to make the air that we breathe healthier.

There is no precedent for a countywide effort to tackle fraudulent emissions inspections. However, all indications point toward the huge impact the program will have on our air. The North Central Texas Council of Governments estimates that we reduce emissions of nitrogen oxides by .0253 tons per year for every vehicle that we bring into emissions compliance. If this program can directly or indirectly impact just 25,000 vehicles, a fraction of the vehicles not in compliance, we can reduce NOx by over 600 tons per year.

Fraudulent inspections are a detriment to us all. If these illegal operators are shut down, it will force failing vehicles to be repaired or get off the roads, providing cleaner air for everyone.

Many have concerns that elderly citizens or low-income residents unable to afford costly emissions repairs will be targeted in this program. That is not our goal. Participating deputies will be educated about the many resources available to drivers in need of financial assistance, including the state's Low Income Vehicle Repair Assistance Program, which offers up to $600 to repair a vehicle.

The impact of polluting vehicles goes far beyond the few involuntarily coughs forced from our mouths while riding behind a smoking vehicle. The impact can, and often does, last for ages.

More children are being diagnosed for asthma at a younger age. Our hospitals are treating more patients for respiratory ailments, with Parkland Hospital providing the bulk of the care. In fact, the American Academy of Pediatrics has cited a study conducted in Atlanta showing that children's emergency room visits for asthma increased by 37 percent after six prolonged days of high ozone levels.

Remarkably, the public hospital where the study was conducted is located in a county with half the population of Dallas County. The more proactive we are about cleaning the air, the less our children and our aged will have to suffer.

As the "clean air emissions initiative" develops, we will see untold benefits from not having the highest pollution-emitting vehicles illegally operating on our roads. As a regional, state and national model for government coalitions, the Dallas County Clean Air Emissions Advisory Board will work toward a safer, stronger, less polluted county.

And, that is Dallas County's business.
Read more in the Dallas News

Water preservation key issue for Railroad Commissioner Candidate Dale Henry

By Sandra Cason - The Marshall News Messenger - Friday, February 08, 2008

It's all about water, said Dale Henry, Democratic candidate for Texas Railroad Commission.

"My campaign is important for one reason," Henry said, "and that is because the state of Texas is running out of water. It is an abused natural resource and the Railroad Commission has done nothing about it for the past 106 years."

If he is elected in this, his third bid for the seat, Henry said he will be the first commissioner with hands-on experience in oil and gas exploration, the industry for which the commission provides oversight.

Henry faces Art Hall and Mark Thompson in the March 4 Democratic Primary. If he is the party nominee, Henry will face Republican incumbent Michael Williams in the November general election.

A resident of Lampasas, 50 miles west of Austin, and a graduate of University of Texas, Henry is a retired employee of Schlumber J company, having worked in the oil fields of Iraq, Iran, Saudi Arabia and the Persian Gulf.

"I spent a number of years in research and development and I hold several fracturing patents," Henry said.

"I've been out there and seen it all," he added.

While many people may not stop to think about it that way, Henry pointed out that oil and gas drilling operations have a tremendous impact on ground water.

"Oil and gas activity inherently produces a lot of water," Henry said. "Water is what is used to bring it to the surface, but on its way, the water accumulates contaminated materials."

A common disposal method for the liquid is "to put it back in the ground."

Henry said he learned of a DeBerry preacher whose church hasn't had water in a number of years. "One well was drilled too close to his church and all the wells in the area are contaminated with salt water. You can drill a hundred good ones, but it takes just one bad well to create a whole bunch of problems," Henry said.

Good drilling practices are particularly important at this point in time because so many production companies are now using a horizontal approach.

"There's an area called the Barnett Shale," Henry said. "It is a very thick layer of stone and breaking through it has never made the effort worthwhile until horizontal drilling. That's the key."

In this method, the pipeline goes down for a distance, "turns a corner," and goes under the stone, Henry explained.

This type of drilling uses "millions of gallons of water per day. Sometimes it will be as much as 275,000 gallons," Henry added.

With such large quantities to be disposed of, Henry said it is more important than ever that the Railroad Commission check all drilling permit applications thoroughly, a practice he claims is not currently followed.

"This rubber-stamping has to stop," he said.

Use of environmentally safe drilling practices are especially important to this area because of Caddo Lake, Henry said.

"I've done hands-on work for the Railroad Commission in Caddo — the plugging of abandoned wells. Ninety percent of those I plugged had not be plugged by Railroad Commission rules and regulations the first time around.

"I will make protecting our water a priority for the Texas Railroad Commission," Henry said in a promotional brochure.

"In dry West Texas, the ranchers have to work hard at salvaging water to grow grass with which to feed cattle and produce beef. At the ranch my wife and I have operated for years, we cut the number of production acres needed per cow and calf from 25 acres to 2.5 acres by getting our water to the right place.

"Water's my passion. I know how to do it," Henry said.

"I'm not a politician and I shouldn't have to be involved in this, but the oil and gas companies are polluting our water, soil, and air, and the Railroad Commission simply turns its back and lets it happen.

"Instead of regulating these industries, the three commissioners are raking in campaign contributions from their executives and political action committees and are burying their heads in the sand.

"It's time for change," Henry said. "I need to bring the knowledge I have back to the people, if they'd like me to share it.

"I can do the job. I want the job.

"The petroleum industry is a great benefit to our state's economy, but that should not come at the expense of our environment or our fresh water supply," he said.

Read more in the Marshall News Messenger

Tx RR Commission Candidate - Dale Henry: Protecting state's water a priority

By RANDY ROSS - Longview News-Journal - Friday, February 08, 2008

Protecting the waters of Texas is a priority for Dale Henry.

The 76-year-old Democratic candidate for the Texas Railroad Commission said the production of oil and gas in Texas does not matter if the industry destroys Texas' natural water sources.

"We have to stop wasting and contaminating our water," Henry said.

Henry faces Art Hall of San Antonio and Mark Thompson of Hamilton in the Democratic primary election on March 4.

Henry has more than 40 years of experience working in the oil and natural gas fields in the United States and abroad, according to his campaign Web site. He has a bachelor of science degree in petroleum engineering from the University of Texas at Austin.

"I've been hands-on from the top to the bottom," Henry said. "I more or less speak the language of the oilfield."

The Railroad Commission is the state agency that regulates the oil and gas industry, gas utilities, pipeline safety, safety in the liquefied petroleum gas industry and the surface mining of coal. Established by the Legislature in 1891, the commission is the state's oldest regulatory agency, according to the agency's Web site.

The self-described environmentalist from Lampasas is a former city manager and county commissioner. He also founded 4 Arrows, the first cementing service company contracted by the railroad commission.

Henry said his experience in the oil and gas industry make him an ideal candidate for the commission. He said he knows the commission's rules and regulations from working as a contractor, and he would be able to begin working on his first day.

The oil and gas industry has a strong economic impact on the state, he said. That impact has come at a cost to the public, he said.

Henry said the commission has for many years considered the economics of the industry more important than public safety. He said that philosophy has changed in recent years, but it needs to continue to change. He said the commission must consider what is in the public's best interest.

"Environmentally, we have a problem," Henry said.

He said companies often cut corners when installing casing in wells to save money. As time erodes sealing and concrete shifts, water begins flowing and drawing out contaminants.

By forcing companies to install casing properly, Henry said companies would save more money in the long-term by avoiding remedial and repair work.

"These are serious matters," Henry said.

Attempts to reach Republican incumbent Michael Williams for comment were unsuccessful Thursday.

Read more in the Longview News-Journal

Monday, February 11, 2008

League of Women Voters of Tarrant County Gas Pipeline Recommendations

By League of Women Voters - January 2008
As gas drilling in the Barnett Shale raises concerns about impacts on water, air, land and lives, the League of Women Voters of Tarrant County urges local Cities to adopt a stringent Gas Pipeline Ordinance immediately. The U.S. Department of Transportation and the Texas Railroad Commission have authority over gas drilling. The Cities, however, have authority over existing and future land use, including the manner in which gas pipeline easements cross property within their jurisdiction.
The pipeline collection system for natural gas (NG) can be visualized as a network of
pipes in varying sizes, some as large as three feet in diameter. This network carries the gas from the well to initial dewatering tanks, then to pump stations where the line pressure is increased, transporting greater volumes of compressed NG onward to other processing stages (odorizing the NG), and ultimately into a network of distribution lines to end users. Each drill site requires a pipeline feeding into the collection system. As gas wells increase in number, the gas pipelines multiply – intermeshing with or crossing underground electric lines, water pipes and other conduits, several of which cannot share the same trench.

Natural gas is a highly explosive/flammable substance. Development must be limited
around gas transmission pipelines because of the potential for gas pipe failures and/or ruptures, and the resultant explosions and fires. Gas pipeline ruptures are not uncommon.

Obviously, the more pipelines, the more chance for a rupture or failure.
At present, local Cities appear to be granting pipeline easements without knowing where the pipelines will begin or end. In Fort Worth, the proposed route of a two-foot-diameter gas pipeline is along an existing rail corridor where The T plans to operate mass transit and construct transit stations. Fortunately, citizens identified the issue, and a City Council member convened a meeting between The T and the pipeline owner to mitigate potential problems. But initially The T had no way of knowing that the proposed easement through Trinity Park could impact their proposed transit stations in Southwest Fort Worth. When assessing gas pipelines, one must be able to see the big picture, not a single easement.

Gas pipeline ordinances are needed to mitigate the safety and land-use risks associated with such pipelines. Ordinances should, at a minimum, include the requirements listed on the attached page.

Application Requirements
Every gas drilling application shall include:

• Name and address of the pipeline owner or operator and principal contact person.
• Name and telephone number of a 24-hour emergency contact.
• Plans showing the dimensions and locations of the pipelines and related items or
facilities within the subject right-of-way or easement, as well as all proposed lift
stations, pumps or other service structures.
• The origin point and destination of the pipeline and a text description of the
general location of the planned pipeline.
• A description of substance to be transported through the pipeline.
• A copy of the substance Material Safety Data Sheet (MSDS).
• The maximum allowable operating pressure and normal operating pressure.
• Application review by City Engineer, City Attorney, City Manager, and, if
required, the City Council prior to permit/easement approval.

Construction and Repair Requirements
• All pipelines shall be constructed out of new pipe.
• Pipeline trenches shall be double ditch backfilled and constructed at a minimum
depth of thirty-six (36) inches except in public rights-of-way, where the minimum
cover to the top of the pipe shall be at least forty-eight (48) inches.
• The pipeline owner or operator shall give notice forty-eight (48) hours prior to
commencement of pipeline construction to all residents and business
establishments that are located within five hundred (500) feet of the proposed
centerline of the pipe.
• The owner or operator of the proposed pipeline shall post a bond to guarantee that
the pipeline will be built in accordance with this ordinance and other applicable
law and to guarantee that all surface land will be returned to its previous

Pipeline Operation Requirements• Every pipeline owner or operator shall provide an annual safety report to the City.
• All pipeline owners or operators shall have procedures to minimize hazards
resulting from an emergency.

Public Education Requirements
All owners or operators must have a public education program that includes the
location of each pipeline, material transported in the pipeline, how and where to
report an emergency, special requirements for excavation near a pipeline, and
how to take cover in an emergency.

Violation Penalty Requirements
The City shall impose fines for violations and shall also be entitled to injunctive
relief to prevent violation or compel compliance with this ordinance.

Fort Worth council to revisit rules on drilling

By MIKE LEE - Star-Telegram Staff Writer - Mon, Feb. 11, 2008
FORT WORTH -- The City Council will reopen its discussions about the gas drilling ordinance Tuesday.

The League of Women Voters of Tarrant County is calling for tighter restrictions on pipelines. The Fort Worth League of Neighborhoods, which had called for a moratorium on new permits until the ordinance is rewritten, is gathering input from members about what issues to push.

The drilling ordinance is important because Fort Worth is the largest city in the Barnett Shale gas field. There are more than 500 gas wells, and counting, in the city. Also, many smaller cities have followed Fort Worth's lead in creating ordinances.

City Council members will discuss two key points during an early afternoon workshop Tuesday: who gets to sit on the task force and what topics they'll discuss.

Mayor Mike Moncrief has said he wants to keep the committee focused on a few key issues and let an industry group work out a solution on saltwater disposal wells.

An exact start time for the workshop has not been set. It is scheduled to start immediately after a 1 p.m. committee meeting Tuesday at City Hall, 1000 Throckmorton St.


The League of Women Voters proposal is at


The League of Neighborhoods information is at www.fwlna.org.

The city has a Web page devoted to gas drilling information, including a map of well locations, at www.fortworthgov.org.

The Star-Telegram's Barnett Shale blog, startelegram.typepad.com/barnett_shale/, has a list of previous posts about the Fort Worth drilling ordinance and links to more information about gas drilling in Tarrant County.

Read more in the Fort Worth Star-Telegram

Consumer issues likely to play large role in Texas Railroad Commission race

By R.A. DYER - Star-Telegram Staff Writer - Mon, Feb. 11, 2008

AUSTIN -- With North Texas residents feeling the economic pinch -- and home energy prices on the rise -- consumer issues could take center stage in the race for the Texas Railroad Commission.

Agency Chairman Michael Williams, 54, a Republican, is seeking re-election. Three Democrats are also running in their party's March 4 primary: former San Antonio Councilman Art Hall, 37; retired chemical engineer Dale Henry, 76; and Mark Thompson, 48, a mobility specialist for the blind. Thompson lives in Hamilton.

Set against the backdrop of the race are several home heating rate increases authorized by the commission. In at least two major North Texas cases, Williams joined with other commissioners in setting rates higher than the agency's own panel of experts had recommended.

Williams said that while he sometimes disagrees with those experts -- they're administrative law judges, and they conduct hearings and consider evidence in rate proceedings -- he nonetheless strives to reject unwarranted requests by utilities.

"But we can have a difference of opinion with regards to policy questions," he said.

The three Democratic candidates say the commission and Williams are too close to the industry they regulate. Each Democrat lambasted the panel for not doing enough to protect consumers.

"Citizens need to get upset -- they need to write the Texas Railroad Commission and talk to them," Thompson said.

The Texas Railroad Commission, an agency little-understood by the public, regulates the oil and gas industry and is charged with ensuring pipeline safety. It also makes environmental decisions regarding oil wells and authorizes cost-of-service rates for natural gas utilities.

Each of the Democrats gave the commission poor marks when it came to protecting ratepayers.

But it's also clear that not all the Democrats are well-versed on commission responsibilities.

For instance, Thompson has claimed that the agency lacks authority to set municipal rates. "When you think about it, they don't control rates in the cities," he said.

Actually, the commission has great authority over cost-of-service rates charged within cities.

Likewise, Hall stated at one time on his Web site that he would make railroad safety an issue in the race. Despite its name, the Texas Railroad Commission has no authority over railroads.

But Hall also said he has received an earful of complaints from North Texas residents about high utility rates. He described the commission as a "rubber stamp" for industry.

"I think it'll definitely be an issue during the general election," he said.

Henry, the retired petroleum engineer, said, "The Railroad Commission of Texas should not sit idly by as energy companies stick bills for hotel rooms and cases of wine to their ratepayers through cost-of-service rate increases" -- a reference to various luxury items put in a recent rate case by Atmos Energy.

The North Texas utility removed the items after reports appeared in the Star-Telegram.

Henry also said the commissioner has not done enough to ensure that Texans pay only the appropriate commodity price of natural gas and has "not done a credible job in reviewing and approving cost-of-service rate increases for natural gas companies."

A recent analysis by the Star-Telegram found that annual home heating bills are about the same now as they were in 2005, even though the commodity price of natural gas has come down dramatically since two hurricanes disrupted supplies that year.

The reason that bills remain high is related, in part, to repeated cost-of-service increases authorized by the commission.

"They need to keep down rates so that they're more reasonable," Thompson said.

Read more in the Fort Worth Star-Telegram

Travel to other worlds ... UTA Planetarium

Immersive full-dome 3-D Digital planetarium show narrated by Ewan McGregor (Obi wan Kepobi from Star Wars) - Astronaut takes you exporing the worlds of inner and outer space. The movie is projected all around you. You recline in specially constructed chairs which enables you to comfortably view the immersive full-dome planetarium show. Astronaut! (produced from the National Space Centre in England) goes beyond the stereotypical space movie. Experience a rocket launch from inside the body of the astronaut. Float around the international Space Station moving thorugh the microscopic regions of the human body! Discover the beauty and perils as "Chad", the test astronaut experiences everything thrown at him.

Summer Schedule (June 2-August 26):


shows at the UTA Planetarium.

Wed. through Saturdays at 11 a.m.
and Thursday at 7:00 p.m.

Cosmic CSI

shows at the UTA Planetarium 3-D Digital Dome.

Wed. through Saturdays at 2 p.m.

Rock Hall of Fame 1 (The Original)

shows at the UTA Planetarium.

Thursday at 8:00 p.m.

Read more (Warning their flat dull website doesn't give much of a glimmer of the multi-dimensional experience you'll have once you enter the dome of the UTA Planetarium!)

Admission: Adults: $5.00

Seniors, Students, Children: $4.00

UTA Faculty, Staff & Alumni (with ID): $3.00

UTA Studens (with ID): $2.00

Groups of 10 or more with reservation: $3.00

Call 817 272-1183 or e-mail planetarium@uta.edu