Dallas City Council approves strict gas drilling regulations

On December 11, 2013, the Dallas City Council adopted revisions to the gas drilling and production regulations of the Dallas Development Code.  In a 9 to 6 vote, the Council approved regulations that require pad sites to be at least 1,500 feet from homes, schools, churches, daycare centers, hospitals, nursing homes, and other protected property.  Individual drilling permits may qualify for an exception to the 1,500 feet, but any exception must be approved by two-thirds of the Council.  Also, drilling on park land would be allowed if certain conditions are met and if the state Parks and Wildlife Department gives the required approval. 

The regulations contain provisions concerning neighborhood meeting requirements, baseline sampling and testing of air, soil , noise and water, limitations on hours of operation, spill prevention and tracking, site maintenance, emissions, and materials management.  All Material Safety Data Sheets (MSDS) for materials stored on site must be kept on site and submitted to the gas inspector.  An inventory statement identifying the quantities, volumes and concentrations of all hazardous materials and chemicals stored or used at the operation site must be provided to the city.

For hydraulic fracturing, the operator must post a sign at the main gate and send written notification to each property owner and each registered neighborhood association  within 1,500 feet of the well site at least 10 days before fracturing begins.  The operator must add non-radioactive tracing or tagging additives into all fracturing fluids used at the site.  For each site, the fracturing fluid non-radioactive tracing or tagging additives must be unique for each operation site.

These regulations come after years of public meetings, including 22 meetings of the Council’s Gas Drilling Task Force held between July 2011 and February 2012, eight meetings of the City Plan Commission, three public hearings, and over 100 hours of public testimony.  Council members supporting the new regulations believe that these rules  protect the health and safety of residents without foreclosing the opportunity to drill where appropriate.  Council opponents disagree, stating that the rules essentially bar any development of the Barnett Shale within Dallas city limits and may be reduced to one line – “there will be no drilling in Dallas.”  Opponents also point to the loss of tax revenue and direct income the city could earn by leasing its own land for development.

This post was written by Barclay Nicholson (barclay.nicholson@nortonrosefulbright.com or 713.651.3662) from Norton Rose Fulbright's Energy Practice Group.