Lipstick on a Poison Pig

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Posted April 26, 2006 by DON YOUNG in News

What a difference a day makes. Or does it? In light of Saturday’s gas well tragedy in Forest Hill that killed one man and displaced hundreds of families, Mayor Mike Moncrief responded that it was too early to tell if the Fort Worth gas drilling ordinance should have any teeth. Apparently one death is not enough.

Last week, before the latest catastrophe, city officials were busy patting themselves on the back for putting together a task force to revisit the gas drilling ordinance. I’d like them to know that their effort has been an utter failure. The preliminary recommendations presented to council recently aren’t worth much to the people who will be hurt by legalized pillaging.

With the exception of three heroic task force members, all of whom have personally experienced the downside of drilling, the work of this committee was a self-serving exercise in greed and distortion. Fundamental change is needed, and all we got was smoke-screened, whitewashed window dressing – lipstick on the pig of a dirty industry that has no business drilling for gas in an urban environment.

The issue that matters most – setbacks, or the allowed distance between a gas well and a home – remains unchanged in the new recommendations. Even Trophy Club, with a 1,000-foot setback, has tougher restrictions than Fort Worth’s puny 300 feet. The noise, lights, and other issues associated with drilling would be much less important with a sensible distance, such as the 3,000 feet that Fort Worth Citizens Against Neighborhood Drilling Ordinance has proposed.

Other important factors, such as the proven reduction of property values, were skirted by the committee. The safety issue was ruled irrelevant due to industry claims that the Barnett Shale formation is safer to drill than all other gas deposits, such as the one near Palo Pinto that leveled a square mile. They might as well bottle Barnett Shale gas in a sculpted French bottle and call it “Eau de BS.” But as we saw in Forest Hill last Saturday, serious, life-threatening accidents can occur at all stages of the drilling process regardless of the geology or how sweet the gas is. Eau de BS can and does kill.

The blame for this travesty can be spread equally among the oil and gas industry, developers, city officials (including the mayor and most of the council), and the Fort Worth League of Neighborhood Associations. They are all guilty in this failure to serve the greater good of Fort Worth. (I might add that much of the “reporting” by the Fort Worth Star-Telegram appears to have been paid for by the drilling industry.)

The common denominator is that oldest of human foibles: greed. “What’s in it for me?” has been the prevailing sentiment expressed at task force meetings. “How can we change the rules to benefit Driller A or Developer B?” Some of the statements made it clear why the city did not televise the meetings. The level of depravity was often so jaw-dropping I had to exit the room.

The current ordinance was conceived and shepherded by the oil and gas industry in 2001 under the watchful eyes of developers and nurtured by city staff who understood its implications. It was passed, with little public comment, when people were still traumatized by the ghastly events of 9/11.

The League of Neighborhood Associations should have come out forcefully against this unprecedented threat to Fort Worth neighborhoods, mobilizing their membership from across the city. Curiously, they played dead, ignoring their own mission statement, leading many neighborhood groups to conclude that drilling was less important than gentleman’s clubs, pawn shops, and untidy yards. Even more curious is the fact that the president of the league was Moncrief’s appointee to the task force. Their lack of leadership combined with post-9/11 apathy allowed these “good ol’ Texas boys” to get away with murder, and the results will be felt in Fort Worth neighborhoods for decades to come.

There are many glaring conflicts of interest in this scenario, but allowing the industry a majority of seats at the task force table tops them all – except maybe the mayor thanking this mob of millionaires for their public service. Repeatedly.

The task force flunked the smell test from Day 1. It’s made me sick and ashamed of my city. With this particular mayor and council (excepting District 8′s Kathleen Hicks), representative government has lost its meaning. We might as well elect Tony Soprano to run things around here. In the end, one must call it what it really is: a task farce.

But we’re not giving up. Join us at the task farce’s final meeting, 4:30 p.m. Thursday at the Handley/Meadowbrook Community Center. Let the fat cats know that people matter and that they care about this issue.

Don Young is a local environmentalist, glass artist, and the co-founder of FWCanDo (www.fwcando.org).

 


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