Friday, October 19, 2012

Wanted: Big Ideas

The new, new draft ordinance is out. I appreciate all the work City Staff has put into this, and I appreciate the open review they have given us: we get a line-by-line look at the changes.

But of those changes - 146 in total - only one seems to really address a big idea that had been voiced by citizens. The draft now requires private water well testing. That is good, but let's not forget the Task Force made this recommendation - it should have been in there already. There is one other decent change in some language that bolsters the leak detection and compliance plan.

The other 144 changes are small ideas (they use the word 'minor' 46 times to describe their alterations). They are driven by consultants and staff - not by citizens. They are mostly technical wordsmithing issues. I guess they really wanted this extra time to further refine the legalese rather than to truly open things up for adjustment via public input. How many of the 146 comments reference the (rushed) public input --- you guessed it, ZERO.

There is clearly great angst about making sure we comply with state and federal law -- just witness the huge new sections they added to clarify all the many ways operators can claim vested rights and to lay out variance and appeals processes, including a new process for operators to make their case that City ordinance is preempted by state and federal law.

Lots of concern here about not getting sued - about making sure operators have every chance to wriggle out of our new rules. But I don't see similar concern about making sure the ordinance reflects the voice of the citizens.

But we are the ones with the big ideas - the ideas that will really make a difference when it comes to protecting the health of our children. They are not about saying 'no' to fracking. They are, rather, about designing a technical system compatible with health, safety, and welfare. Indeed, some of our big ideas will save operators money. They are not crazy ideas - just big ideas.

Here are some big ideas for Denton --- but they are ho-hum for other cities on the Barnett who have already accomplished them:

1. Increase set-back distances
2. Prohibit open pits
3. Require green completions/ prohibit venting and flaring
4. Prohibit compressor stations
5. Require low-toxicity drilling fluids
6. Require comprehensive air, water, and soil monitoring

And here are some big ideas that could put Denton back at the leading edge of citizen protection and best practices on the Barnett:

1. Require operators to purchase renewable energy to run their equipment --- how about it: Wind-powered gas wells! Now that is a bridge fuel.
2. Strengthen VOC capture from condensate tanks --- seems like no one really has thought through all the potential here of alternative vapor recovery units.
3. Require zero-emission dehydrators, low-bleed or no-bleed pneumatic valves,  and other best practices. Denton could lead the pack by requiring the best environmental performance possible. 
4. Establish a pad site upgrade incentive program -- why not divert some gas well fund revenues into installing best practices on old pad sites? A great technological work-around for some of the vested rights business.

What are your big ideas? Now is the time to put them on the radar of City Council.

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