The City Council voted 5-2 early Wednesday morning to approve Southlake’s first gas well site and officials with XTO Energy say a drilling rig could be on the Milner ranch by mid-April. XTO could drill up to 18 wells on the pasture located at 651 E. Highland St. near Texas 114. The council also voted 5-2 to approve two variances to the city’s drilling ordinance, including one that allows drilling within 1,000 feet of two houses on the Milner ranch. Both homeowners submitted waivers consenting to the drilling.
The long-awaited votes came at 1:40 a.m. with Councilman Al Zito and Councilwoman Carolyn Morris voting no.
Before drilling can begin, XTO will request construction and drilling permits, which are handled by city staff.
Council members addressed Walter Dueease, senior regulator affairs coordinator for XTO Energy, on 86 different points, a tedious process that took more than four hours.
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Dueease agreed to most of the council’s requests, including 24-hour air monitoring and restrictions on purchasing city water during the summer months.
The air monitoring will start when the first well is fractured, a process that uses sand, water and chemicals to break up the shale rock to release the gas. The testing continues for a year after the third well is fractured at which time the findings will be reviewed to see if more testing is needed. The council debated whether to use continuous monitoring or periodic testing once a month.
Councilwoman Pamela Muller, Morris and Zito favored 24-hour monitoring to ensure that nearby residents are protected.
"I would like us to consider continuous monitoring for at least a year," Muller said. "I want to be assured that it's tested on a continuous basis."
Dueease said safeguards at the drill site mean the 24-hour testing would "literally serve no purpose."
But that didn’t persuade the council.
"This would prove to all the residents that what you’re saying is true," Zito said.
Bringing thousands of gallons of water to the drill site posed another problem, as city leaders don't want hundreds of tanker trucks traveling to the drill site but they are reluctant to sell city water when there's peak demand in the summer.
Instead, a compromise was reached where XTO Energy will be allowed to purchase city water from Oct. 15 to May 1 and then use trucks for the rest of the year.
The council also set a three-year time limit on the specific use permit. If XTO Energy isn't done drilling the 18 wells by February 2014, it will have to reapply.
The permit also included a proposed pipeline route that will carry the natural gas from the drill site to market. The route runs parallel to Texas 114.
Two variances to the city’s pipeline ordinance were approved 6-1 with Zito voting no. The variances allow the pipeline company, Energy Transfer, to work on the pipeline 24 hours a day and place the pipeline in areas outside designated utility corridors.