Dallas City Council Passes De Facto Fracking Ban, Refuses to Tell Residents

DallasEarlier today, the Dallas City Council passed what has been dubbed a “drilling ordinance” that establishes new “rules” for shale development within the city’s limits. Unfortunately, the City Council refused to be honest with area residents about what they were really doing: banning hydraulic fracturing.

Prospective shale development in Dallas has been discussed for years, ever since Trinity East paid the city nearly $20 million back in 2008 for a lease to develop natural gas. The city changed course, though, and refused to issue the necessary permits until it could draft, hone, and implement new rules on drilling and development.

The City Council ultimately came up with a plan that creates, among other things, a 1,500-foot setback requirement, establishing the distance that any proposed well must be from a house. To put that in context, the setback requirement in nearby Fort Worth — where a significant amount of Barnett Shale development has safely occurred for many years — is 600 feet. The Dallas plan would essentially require that any well site be surrounded by a buffer zone equivalent to the area of AT&T Stadium (where the Dallas Cowboys play) and its surrounding parking lot.

Clearly, this is a de facto ban — but it has largely been reported in the media and sold to the Council’s constituents as a path forward that simply establishes strong rules. The Dallas Morning News ran an editorial earlier this month calling the ordinance “balanced” and “reasonable.” Meanwhile, the New York Times took the bait entirely: “Dallas officials say they have no intention of banning drilling and are simply being cautious.”

The reality is that anti-fracking groups (and their political allies) are pushing for these types of bans across the country by any means necessary — even if it relies on dishonesty. Thankfully, those measures have often been defeated. But in areas without any development, activists still push for explicit bans, cognizant of the fact that few residents (if any) have family-sustaining jobs connected to shale development. But in areas where honesty would not sell, activists push for “ordinances” that are literally so restrictive that they are, for all intents and purposes, complete bans — which is exactly what happened in Dallas this week.

The reason for this strategy — deceptively calling for “rules” instead of a ban, when the hidden agenda is still a ban — should be obvious: Most people do not want to ban development. They know oil and natural gas help power their cars, heat their homes, and provide high-paying jobs for their friends and neighbors. They want more energy security, and domestic production of oil and natural gas helps achieve that.

But activists know if they sell a ban as “strong rules” to guarantee “responsible development” they’ll win support. Deceptive? Yes. Effective? Unfortunately, yes. Ironically, the industry is supportive of reasonable rules, as compromises with environmental groups in Illinois, Colorado, Texas, and elsewhere have proven.

Of course, the Dallas City Council was not the first set of municipal leaders to align with anti-fracking activism in this manner — it wasn’t even the first in the Metroplex. The suburb of Flower Mound passed its own measure back in 2011, and the Dallas Morning News reported that “it’s unclear how many new gas wells will be drilled in Flower Mound under the new rules.” A separate Morning News piece said that all potential new development came to a “stop” after the ordinance passed.  The city of Southlake, after “lifting” its moratorium, likewise maintained an unreasonable setback requirement (the distance a well must be from certain structures) that has been a barrier to new drilling.

What opponents of shale development hope is that residents don’t realize that they’re supporting a ban until it’s too late. When the ordinance passed today, a local organizer for the anti-fracking group Earthworks celebrated on Twitter: “De facto fracking ban passes in Dallas.”

Indeed it did. But didn’t the people of Dallas deserve more from their own City Council — you know, like honesty?


  1. Raymond Crawford says:

    The city council did the right thing yesterday with that 9-6 vote. Since the industry is unwilling to admit to it’s impacts on the environment and mob tactics towards land owners(Range Resources), it was time for the city to get “on top” of this situation, and they did. Dallas has done very well for decades without gas drilling inside city limits and will continue to prosper. Kudos to the 9 who had the steel balls to cast that smart vote.

    • Ryan Crawford says:

      What “impacts on the environment”, exactly, are you referring to? Do you know anything about hydraulic fracturing, or do you get your information from Gasland?

      • Actually, I happen to live in the Marcellus ‘sacrifice zone’ and have seen the damage caused by this industry first hand.

  2. EJ Neilsen says:

    “But activists know if they sell a ban as “strong rules” to guarantee “responsible development” they’ll win support. Deceptive? Yes. Effective? Unfortunately, yes. Ironically, the industry is supportive of reasonable rules, as compromises with environmental groups in Illinois, Colorado, Texas, and elsewhere have proven”

    Good for goose and gander…. The oil and gas industry hides the facts in so much dishonest verbiage I am having a hard time laughing when this blog claims anti fracking groups are using deceptive language. Oh my… how does that crow taste? or humble pie, or… Sound arguments help pursued the council in was in the public interest to have strong policies.

  3. Jim Schermbeck says:

    Amazing how these activists have so much power over others to do their bidding, even though you say they’re in the minority. Their persuasive powers must be quite remarkable. Or maybe it’s the facts.

  4. The story above starts with an absolute lie, which is typical of the oil and gas industry in general and the Energy in Depth website in particular. It states, “The city changed course, though, and refused to issue the necessary permits until it could draft, hone, and implement new rules on drilling and development.”

    Doing what the story claims would be an ex post facto, which is specifically prohibited in Article 1, § 9 and Article 1 § 10 of the US Constitution. The original leases would always be executed under the ordinance that was in effect at the time the lease agreement was initiated. But, Energy in Depth lacks the integrity to deal honestly with this subject, or to even publish this comment because it points out the lies the industry uses.

    Not to worry, Energy in Depth – your lies will be copied and posted in many other places for the benefit of people everywhere. In the end Dallas citizens won a great victory and the oil and gas industry got its head (and other parts of its anatomy) handed to it on a platter yesterday. Good riddance! Go find some other place to drill.

  5. Roscoe McCloskey says:

    Clearly hypocrisy is a foreign concept to the Meagan Baker. For a shill of this industry to accuse anyone of deception or dishonesty is ridiculous. This industry uses closed door sessions with lawmakers who are on their payroll to push through legislation that is against the best interests of the communities it will impact, they destroy well water and then demand non-disclosure agreements to be signed before they will do anything to help the victims whose lives they have forever disturbed and they outright lie to homeowners in efforts to get them to sign leases. If local communities were allowed to ban this practice outright they would. The problem with this idea is that the natural gas industry has manipulated legislators and purchased so much influence that the lawmakers and judges who are supposed to protect the citizens are beholding to the industry therefore they decide in favor of it, regardless of right or wrong. The only thing I have to say to Meagan and the rest of the paid industry cheerleaders here at EID is quit whining about anyone else using similar tactics to your own parasitic industry and deal with it. It is only going to get worse, your easy money train is coming to the end of it’s tracks. Hydraulic fracturing and other extreme extraction techniques are quickly being banned all over the world and the rest of the fossil fuel industry is sputtering and dying a very natural death as well.

    • Ryan Crawford says:

      Fracturing does not destroy well water.

      The fossil fuel industry is not sputtering out, it is flourishing and will be around for a very long time.

      • Roscoe McCloskey says:

        Ryan, the people of this country are getting wise to the tactics of the natural gas industry. You can continue to claim that this industry does not pollute well water, but the evidence is overwhelming and you will continue to look silly making the claims. Multiple studies have been done that document methane migration in to water wells near fracked sites. The closer to the fracked site the more likely the contamination. The industry has spent millions of dollars buying influence in states like Pennsylvania to hide this evidence or to try to have the “regulators” hide it, but the cat is out of the bag. No longer can the industry claim that there is no documented evidence of well contamination, they have been caught trying to cover the evidence up, not report it to landowners or pay them to be quiet. Your simple denial is all that you have left, and if you truly believe what you say you are just uninformed, if you know the truth you are a liar. Either way, you are simply wrong.

        • Ryan Crawford says:

          Hydraulic fracturing takes place thousands of feet below the water table. Do not confuse fracturing with drilling. Many people think they are they same. Do a little research before you start a discussion. Fracturing takes place long after a well has been drilled. Hydraulic fracturing is used to stimulate old wells, to get them to produce again. If there is contamination, it is because the casing was faulty during the drilling process.

          I know this for a fact.

      • Frac’ing permanently destroys an average of 5 million gallons of freshwater every time they frac a Barnett Shale well. Your denial of the truth does not alter that simple fact.

  6. It appears the activist community in north Texas has discovered the Energy In Depth blog. Welcome! In a surprise to no one, many of you have obfuscated the central thesis of the post and chosen to attack the industry on your own terms. If the Dallas City Council wanted to ban hydraulic fracturing, then the Council members should have told the public and the media that a ban is what they were interested in. Instead, they told reporters that they had no interest in banning drilling (not true), and were just interested in establishing new rules. The fact is, if they had written the ordinance to reflect exactly what they intended to achieve — i.e. a ban on hydraulic fracturing — they likely would have been unsuccessful, for the reasons spelled out in this post. So instead of being honest, they sold a “common sense” bill of goods (“rules”) to achieve their goal. It’s unfortunate that the activist community is tacitly supporting such dishonesty from our elected leaders, but apparently the ends justify the means.

    • Jim Schermbeck says:

      So, to be clear, you’re calling the Dallas Mayor and 8 Dallas council members liars? Smart move. And your position is that this doesn’t allow for any fracking in Dallas simply because of the 1500 foot setback? Can you prove that assertion before calling elected officials liars? Because you’re just name-calling here, you’re not actually proving your case. Show us the maps, the distances, the location of the current leases in Dallas. You know, facts?

      • Roscoe McCloskey says:

        Again, you have a lot of nerve calling someone a liar. Your whole industry is based on deception and dishonesty, all in the sad effort to extract the last little bit of profit before this industry dies off. If you were truly concerned about honesty and ethics you would be better served concerning yourselves with your own industry. Stop whining and carrying on simply because the citizens you have been taking advantage of for decades have used your own tactics against you.

    • Zac Trahan says:

      Meagan, your article refutes its own thesis. At the end you called the Southlake ordinance “unreasonable,” a “barrier to drilling” and insinuated that it is also a “drilling ban.” The Southlake ordinance requires a 1,000ft setback. The pro-drilling Dallas City Council members, in their fervor to label a 1,500ft setback a “ban,” argued forcefully for a 1,000ft setback during yesterday’s vote. Were they also supporting a “ban” in doing so? Face it, industry supporters simply call anything that actually protects residents a “drilling ban” as a scare tactic.

      • Energy In Depth says:

        Thanks Zac. It’s not as if a specific number of feet establishes whether an ordinance is a ban or not. What determines that is the feasibility of complying with the setback in the city itself. As detailed above, the Dallas setback requirement (1,500 feet) is likely impossible to comply with if someone wants to develop a shale well, given the structures and available land within the city limits. In other cities, a smaller setback distance could also establish a de facto ban, given the orientation of the region, geology, and how the ordinance is worded. That’s not an argument against setbacks entirely, just an argument for a setback requirement that is feasible. A city could establish a 10-mile setback requirement and call it “not a ban” because technically it’s providing parameters for how a well could be developed. But if it’s not feasible, then it would be much more honest to write an explicit ban into law. Unfortunately, the Dallas City Council didn’t see it that way. Hopefully that clears things up.

        • Zac Trahan says:

          Actually that doesn’t clear things up. Earlier in this process, industry lobbyists also labeled a then-proposed 1,000ft setback as a “deal breaker,” a de facto ban in Dallas. But when the City Plan Commission and City Council supported the 1,500ft setback, the very same people advocated to go back to 1,000 feet, now saying that distance wasn’t a ban after all, but 1,500ft would be – maybe hoping everyone would simply forget what they had said about 1,000ft setbacks before? Look, it’s no surprise that industry wants the smallest possible setbacks, and that they’re willing to say whatever they think will get the result they want. It is surprising that they (and you) think people won’t understand when industry is speaking and acting in its own self-interest.

  7. Tim Ruggiero says:

    I know there has been a lot to keep up with, but as I seem to recall, the Dallas Mayor himself stated that he was opposed to “Urban drilling”. But neither the mayor or council banned fracking, just implemented measures to prevent drilling operations no closer than 1500′ to a home, schools and churches. Is that unreasonable? Because it sure as hell isn’t reasonable for someone to have to put up with the never ending leaks, spills, emissions, and then saddled with giant diesel fueled compressor stations.

    The TCEQ is unwilling, if not just simply inept, the EPA cowers and spends all of it’s time sitting at congressional hearings, and the TRRC’s mission statement is to PROMOTE oil and gas. So who’s looking out for us? A very small handful of determined, if not fed up people took on an arrogant, multi-million dollar industry and won a small measure of what amounts to nothing more than a a few feet of distance from the next environmental disaster.


  1. [...] fossil fuel industry site Energy In Depth quickly called Dallas’ ordinance a dishonest backdoor ban on fracking, noting that in Fort Worth, where the [...]

  2. [...] fossil fuel industry site Energy In Depth quickly called Dallas’ ordinance a dishonest backdoor ban on fracking, noting that in Fort Worth, where the [...]

  3. [...] gas industry reacted strongly, calling the ordinance a “de facto fracking ban.” It’s hardly that, since [...]

Speak Your Mind