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,