FORT WORTH -- One issue in this year's mayoral race that transcends income, neighborhood and ethnicity is the effect, if any, of natural gas drilling on the city's air.
No area of town lacks gas wells, and that is an economic boon for Fort Worth, all candidates agree. They all also wonder whether it's not an environmental drain, too.
The results of a study due in June are expected to answer some of the more troubling questions about the Barnett Shale, but residents seem to be increasingly anxious about what drilling is doing to the air.
And they want to know what the city -- the mayor and City Council, in particular -- will do about it if the study shows unhealthy emissions from gas wells and compressors.
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The five candidates vying to replace Mayor Mike Moncrief in the May 14 election weighed in on the issue at a forum Monday night at The Potter's House of Fort Worth. It will air at 7 tonight on KTXA/Channel 21.
Dan Barrett, Cathy Hirt, Jim Lane, Betsy Price and Nicholas Zebrun all attended.
"If it was going to be a glowing report it would have already come out," said Lane, a former six-term councilman. "I hope I'm wrong, but if I'm not, it'll be our responsibility to take the appropriate action."
The city has a shared role in regulating gas drilling. The city handles the permit process, but the Texas Railroad Commission oversees the drilling. The Texas Commission on Environmental Quality also has a big hand.
"How much burden the city of Fort Worth assumes depends on how effectively the other governmental agencies are doing it, and I don't think that's very effectively at all," said Barrett, a former state representative who has said throughout the campaign that the current council hasn't seen a "waiver it didn't like."
"So the city, as the governmental entity closest to the people, has the absolute obligation to protect the health and safety of our citizens," Barrett said. "We must never, ever, ever sacrifice the health and safety of our citizens in favor of economic gain, and I don't care whose economic gain it is."
All the candidates shared that sentiment, saying they would be open to revisiting the city's gas well ordinance, which was revised in 2008.
Hirt has consistently said the portion of the ordinance governing setbacks, the distance between wells and other structures, should be modified. She advocates setbacks of 1,200 feet -- the requirement of the Fort Worth school district -- instead of the current 600 feet. The minimum setback from homes is 300 feet, which also applies to hotels, motels, auditoriums, funeral homes, live theaters and libraries.
"We've compromised some health and safety concerns," said Hirt, who added that she would encourage "systematic and regular" air and water testing. "It's our air, and we need to make sure it is protected. There are lots of things that can be done [with processes], but we need to make sure setbacks are proper."
Price, who resigned as Tarrant County tax assessor-collector to run for mayor, reintroduced a concept she has been promoting: getting "the brightest and best minds" to monitor this process. She proposes involving scientists and students from area universities.
Zebrun agreed that health and safety should be the top priorities for policymakers in any redrafting of the ordinance, but he offered no specifics.
John Henry, 817-390-7539