Tonight, Tuesday, Dec. 14, a school board meeting will be held that could affect gas drilling safety at 43 Fort Worth schools, almost half of them in the East and Southeast sides of the city. Parents and all interested in the safety of school children are being urged to attend by East Side neighborhood activists Rita Vinson and Libby Willis, head of the Fort Worth League of Neighborhoods. The meeting starts at 5:00 in the trustee board room at 2903 Shotts Street just behind the administration building at 100 University. The affected schools are listed at the end of this post.
Willis and Vinson are angered by the fact that the administration, backed by Superintendent Melody Johnson, who is on the record as wanting the leases to be approved without the added environmental protections, is trying to push through several of the drilling leases, including nine new ones, ahead of a moratorium that was agreed upon by the board less than a month ago. Following a presentation by Willis on Nov. 16, the board chair Ray Dickerson– backed by all of the trustees — promised parents and interested citizens and organizations a 90 day delay on mineral rights leases involving 24 tracts of district-owned property in order for a team of experts, provided by the League of Neighborhoods, to have time to design a wellsite that would be “environmentally friendly enough” to be near schools, according to Willis. The design would then be incorporated in all of the leases proposed near the 43 schools.
“A deal is a deal,” she wrote in a press release.
According to Willis, the “board of trustees does not have enough information to make good decisions on any of the leases on their Dec. 14 agenda.” For example, she cites these unsettling findings on benzene, a known toxic emission from gas drilling:
— One member of the team of experts put together by the league, Dr. Melanie Sattler, who is associate professor of engineering at UTA has been working on dispersion modeling at various drilling sites in and around Fort Worth to determine the cumulative maximum 1 hour concentrations and the annual concentrations of ambient testing. Her findings are startling, Willis said: “Even though ambient concentrations may appear to be below concern at first glance, when modeled, toxicity levels, benzene in particular, vastly exceed the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality short and long term health screening levels.” The University of Texas School of Public Health report issued in 2008 concluded that children were six times more likely than adults to contract a particularly deadly type of leukemia from benzene exposure.
Vinson said of the administration’s action, “It is a typical December stunt to try to push something through approval with the assumption that citizens are too busy to notice, read about, send e-mails about, or attend an important but not well publicized meeting.” She urges citizens to read the League’s message, parts of which are copied below and “Send an e-mail to your school board trustee, or, if possible, attend the meeting.”
“Please ask the board members to delay voting on the mineral rights leases for all these schools until the League’s team of expert scientists has made its recommendations on measures to make these wellsites safe enough to be near schools.”
According to Willis’ press release, other government bodies nearby and across the nation are beginning to show restraint on drilling sites until there is more known about the impact on the environment and the public’s health:
— In mid-November, the Grand Prairie City Council approved a 180 day moratorium on gas-drilling permits within their city limits due to concerns about environmental issues. Grand Prairie has 60 gas wells within its city limits; Fort Worth has 2,000 wells within its city limits.
— The City of Dallas City Council has delayed until January 12, 2011 a zoning request by XTO so it can drill at Hensley Field, citing environmental concerns about the impact of the natural gas fracturing process on ground water. Calls continue for a moratorium on gas drilling in the city of Dallas.
— The New York State Legislature has recently approved a moratorium on natural gas fracturing (“fracking”) until May 2011, giving the state more time to address safety and environmental issues with the process.
— The City of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania recently approved a ban on natural gas drilling within their city limits because of environmental concerns.
And she cited reports from the ongoing City of Fort Worth Air Quality Study as of November 1, 2010 that confirmed a much higher number of gas drilling sites are producing emissions than was expected — the expectation was that 25% of sites would be producing emissions; results have shown that 70% of tested sites are producing emissions. Reports also show that the number and levels of Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCS) contained in these emissions is of concern to scientists.
And today, the Fort Worth City Council is expected to approve another $400,000. in funding to increase the number of sites which are tested in their study. The complete study is expected in June 2011.
“If the district approves all the leases on their agenda tonight, they lose the tremendous leverage that is available to require low emission drilling technology for the drillsites near all of the schools in the district,” Willis said. “If the leases are signed Tuesday, children across the city will not get the kind of protection they might get if the district honored its 90 day delay for the expert study and inserts low emission drilling technology requirements in all its leases after that.”
The affected schools:
Handley Middle School
Atwood McDonald Elementary
Meadowbrook Middle School
Sagamore Elementary School
Meadowbrook Elementary School
Paul Laurence Dunbar High School
Dunbar 6th Grade Center
Dunbar Middle School
Maude I. Logan Elementary School
Maudrie M. Walton Elementary School
Sunrise-McMillan Elementary School
S. S. Dillow Elementary School
Christene C. Moss Elementary School
D. McRae Elementary School
T. A. Sims Elementary School
A. M. Pate Elementary School
Eastern Hills Elementary School
Eastern Hills High School
East Handley Elementary School
West Handley Elementary School
Handley Scarbrough Field