After a final public hearing, the Mansfield City Council Monday night unanimously approved tighter restrictions on gas well drilling but did not widen the city’s 600-foot minimum separation between gas and oil wells and the public.
The 6-0 vote, with Councilman Stephen Lindsey absent, culminates more than a year of public debate over how to protect against nuisance and potential health risks without stifling oil and gas development — and inviting litigation.
The mix of 25 speakers was almost evenly divided on the issue, as were the 19 resident nonspeakers who put their opinions on cards.
Mansfield Gas Well Awareness, an advocacy group founded by a northwest Mansfield neighborhood, led the push for wider buffer zones of up to 1,500 feet. The 600-foot minimum separation was unchanged in the proposed amendments.
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Tamera Bounds, a group leader, said she supported the ordinance revisions, calling it “a step in the right direction.”
But she said, “The most important components were buffers,” Bounds said. Many areas cities have buffers ranging from 1,000 to 1,500 feet.
“Would it really cost jobs to move the buffer another 400 feet?” she said.
“There is good science backing up [the health risks] to proximity,” said Jim Schermbeck, leader of the environmental group Downwinders at Risk. Five or 10 years from now, he told the council, “you'll regret not doing this now.”
Another group, Citizens for Mansfield, formed recently to support the proposed ordinance as is and to counter demands for wider buffers. Its members and other speakers told the council that anything near a 1,500-foot minimum separation from the public would effectively ban new well development.
Ed Ireland, executive director of Barnett Shale Energy Education Council, said that as the industry has drilled 20,000 wells over the years, “ozone levels and other pollutant levels have declined.”
“There's never been a wellhead fire in the Barnett Shale,” Ireland said.
Among the changes in the proposed ordinance:
▪ The Sunday ban on hydraulic fracturing was extended to include all holidays observed by City Hall.
▪ Fracking also was prohibited on Saturdays for well sites closer than 1,000 feet from homes and other protected uses.
▪ It broadens the requirement that operators power their drilling rigs and compressors with electricity from the city’s power grid instead of diesel fuel.
▪ New operators of existing wells have five days to send notices to all occupants of all protected uses within 1,000 feet. The information must include the operator’s name and emergency and non-emergency telephone numbers.
▪ Operators must meet with city fire department officials at least once a year to review emergency response plans and incident command system.
▪ A new section under permit applications requires much more information, plans for landscaping and irrigation, noise management, stormwater pollution prevention, tree surveying, hazardous materials management and pipeline routing.
▪ Gas well permits expire after 180 days unless drilling has begun. The city gas well inspector can extend the deadline by another 180 days. Previously, the dealine was one year.
▪ Each drill site, operation site or line compressor facility must have an emergency shut-down switch installed. At least once a year, the fire marshall must test the switches and monitoring systems.
▪ The city manager can request a well operator to provided an extended gas analysis to check levels of a variety of chemicals, including harmful ones such as benzene and toluene.