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Dallas City Council Denies Trinity East Drilling, Though Mayor Urges Them to Call Company’s Bluff

A parade of drilling opponents spoke this afternoon before the Dallas City Council voted down the specific-use permits that would have given Trinity East clearance to drill for natural gas on city park land in northwest Dallas. All these speakers were concerned about the possible environmental impacts of hydraulic fracturing and drilling at the site.

Proponents of drilling then argued that studies from the University of Texas at Austin and the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality show no evidence of negative environmental impact from drilling, before the issue finally fell to the council to decide.  The votes on the three specific-use permits failed because a supermajority was required for them to pass and only nine council members approved, with six in opposition.

Councilman Jerry Allen was among those who supported the permits, arguing that Trinity East was unlikely to drill anyway because the current economic environment (a glut in the natural gas supply that’s lowered prices) would make it unprofitable for them.  He argued to deny the SUP is to guarantee that the city will be sued and “we might as well write a million-dollar check.”

Mayor Mike Rawlings expanded on this idea in his statement before the vote. Though he said he’s personally opposed to urban gas drilling, he voted for the permits.

“One might see a metaphorical poker game being played,” he said, the city on one side and Trinity East on the other. Basically, he thought Trinity East was bluffing — they don’t want to drill anyway, they’d rather be able to sue. “Their only chance in this poker game is one high card: the chance that we deny these SUPs, and they get to sue the city.”

Which, if Trinity East makes good on their threats, they will now.

5 comments on “Dallas City Council Denies Trinity East Drilling, Though Mayor Urges Them to Call Company’s Bluff

  1. The letter agreement between Trinity East and the City/Mary Suhm states without qualification “there are no guarantees” that Trinity East will be granted the approval to drill. The letter cites “reasonable efforts” (I believe) by City staff in getting the drilling permit requests in front of Council.

    Seems to me the letter says Trinity East was aware they may not receive the permits, and as long as the application went to Council the City staff did what they told Trinity East they would do.

    ironic isn’t it, the Letter Agreement that many of us were upset with Suhm signing may be what stops a lawsuit from costing the City money. Hate to say it, but could it be instead of Suhm going around the Council she actually did a CYA?

  2. On what basis could Trinity East have grounds to sue the City? Notwithstanding the fact that Mary Suhm and Tom Perkins entered into an agreement with them, it is well established under Texas zoning law that city employees can’t authorize land uses that are illegal. Beyond that, private parties engaging in business with municipalities relating to land use are cautioned that it is their responsibility, alone, to comply with the law.

    In this case, Trinity East entered into a lease based upon the law as it existed at the time the lease was executed. City zoning ordinances prohibited (and continue to prohibit) drilling on the sites in question. Just because Mary Suhm claimed she could get the law changed (which is what an SUP basically is– a one-time change in the law applicable to a specific piece of property), she has no authority to make such a claim nor to change the law to suit her wishes. That power is reserved to the City Council, and the City Council, alone. Trinity East would be deemed to have entered into the arrangement with Suhm based on full knowledge of existing city ordinances.

  3. You make excellent points. One additional thing to point out is that giving out bonuses to cities prior to getting “official” approval was and has been the template since all of this began back in 2005 or so in Fort Worth. Trinity East’s Tom Blanton mentioned that his first well in the Barnett Shale was in Fort Worth. He must not be terribly pragmatic because if he were he would have noted that a lot has changed as the gas drilling tidal wave moved to the east. Dallas is NOT Fort Worth. He knows now. God. Bless. Dallas. Amen.

  4. When it comes to shale gas drilling, there’s more than enough “bluffing” to circle the planet a thousand times. #Fracking