Monday, January 7, 2013

Dear Mayor Burroughs

I am getting lots of resistance from City Council on our request to push the setback distance up to 1,500 feet. I have heard it is impossible and constitutes a regulatory takings. The Mayor wrote to me asking for studies that would very specifically justify this policy change in terms of city zoning powers (e.g., nuisance, noise, and light)...of course there are no such studies...but we don't need them. Here is my reply to the Mayor:
Dear Mayor Burroughs,
I am not aware of any studies about the very specific issues that you mention (about noise, lights, and child safety between 1,000 and 1,500 feet). The sad fact is that there is not nearly as much money available for studying the health impacts of shale gas development as there is available for extracting the gas. What we do have are numerous stories told by families about how fracking has been a nuisance for them and how it has decreased their property value.
If such studies are necessary for making this decision, then perhaps we should extend the moratorium until they are conducted to your satisfaction. It seems like our Task Force should have commissioned experts to testify about such issues – the Dallas Task Force did a far more thorough job of collecting information. We must have had a botched and superficial advisory process if our decision makers are now, at this late stage, still lacking vital information.
So, we could call a do-over on the Task Force and get it right this time. But actually, for this issue, I don’t think we have to do that. The case for 1,500 feet is pretty simple.
We do know that drilling and fracking emit noxious (and toxic) chemicals into the air. And we know that the health impacts of those chemicals are worse the closer you are to their source – indeed health risks are high as far as ½ mile away. I have linked to a couple of studies here, but I also understand that Sharon Wilson of Earthworks has supplied you with others that have come to similar conclusions.
It is better for health, safety, and welfare (the stated purposes of the ordinance) to be further away from drilling and fracking. The question is: How far away is safe enough? That is a political and moral, not strictly a scientific, question. It is about how to act under uncertainty and how much risk to ask citizens to shoulder for an industry that is imposing externalities on us.
Though science can establish some reasonable parameters, there is ultimately not a ‘scientific’ answer to this question, because it is about our values. Flower Mound has shown that 1,500 feet is politically possible – why wouldn’t we make the same values decision? It is a reasonable and prudent move in a situation characterized by uncertainty and imbalanced risk allocation.
Or we can put it another way: How close would you like this next to your kids’ homes, schools, and playgrounds?
Thank you for your continued efforts on the ordinance. All the best,


  1. Where are the studies saying 1000 ft is safe? They are not going to include 1500 in new ordinances. It is all about revenue not safety. If it is not regulatory taking in Flower Mound it is not regulatory taking here. State law is state law.

  2. If there was a pig farm, visible and smellable, 1000 feet from your home, it would have a negative effect on your quality of life, as well as the value of your property. Obviously, if it was further away, that effect might be somewhat mitigated. But, we are not talking about smell or visibility - we are considering some regulation of an industrial activity with the capability of spewing carcinogens into the air, leaking chemicals into the soil and water, as well as moving a highly explosive substance under high pressure - the equivalent of a huge bomb. Common sense needs to prevail. It is not patriotic and it does not increase national security to ruin our city to power Chinese factories. With more than a 75-year supply of natural gas in storage, and an over-supply price that doesn't justify the production, why should we allow this unnecessary invasion within our city limits?

    1. you make some great points, thanks!