A citizens group is fighting an energy company’s request to extend an expired permit that would allow up to 34 more natural gas wells to be drilled in a populated area on Debbie Lane.
After a 90-minute deliberation last week, the City Council approved the Edge Resources’ request on the second of three required votes, but the council pressed company officials to consider adding more state-of-the-art monitoring equipment and processes to protect public health.
The third and final is expected at the next council meeting Jan. 26.
Edge Resources received its specific use permit to drill 36 gas wells on Debbie Lane, east of US 287, in the fall of 2008. But the five-year drilling-rights permit expired September 2013 after only two wells were drilled, which Edge officials attributed to a sharp decline in the price of natural gas.
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The citizens group, Mansfield Gas Well Awareness, contended that, since gas prices are still flat, Edge is rushing only to get its drilling rights extended before the city imposes stricter controls on air and noise pollution at drilling sites later this year.
They said the slumping gas market should be a good time to update old ordinances with provisions requiring higher-tech devices and systems to monitor, detect and capture harmful emissions and reduce noise.
“By the applicant’s own admittance, they have no plans to drill new wells in the immediate future,” said Eric Orsak, one of the group leaders. “So why is there a rush for this new permit, especially when so much is on the line?”
Mike Martinez, a founding partner of Edge Resources, denied any timing scheme.
“There is no ‘hurry,’” Martinez said. “But in our course of business, this is a big part of our company’s profile, so we have to be ready at any given point in time to move forward.”
Martinez said that when Edge Resources started the process last spring of getting the drilling rights extended, “we had no idea the price of gas would be where it is today.”
Ultimately, Edge officials agreed that, if their extension were granted by a third council vote, they would meet any new requirements that are in place by the time the company starts drilling its next well.
The city has been reviewing its gas well regulations, meeting with drilling operators and with residents in hopes of coming up with stricter controls on drilling that protect the public without unnecessarily burdening drilling operators.
Mansfield currently requires drill sites to be at least 600 feet from residential subdivisions, commercial or public buildings, schools or day care centers. But the Mansfield activist group and others contend buffers closer to 1,500 feet would be much safer.
Last year, the city beefed up its ordinance, banning fracking – the high-pressure fracturing of shale to extract gas – on Sundays, and forbidding the practice of “flaring,” which burns off unusable gas. The city also required operators to switch from diesel to electricity to power drilling equipment, a move to significantly reduce noise and fumes.
City officials met with the Mansfield activist group the week before last and with gas well operators last week to gather ideas for further strengthening city regulations.
City Planning Director Felix Wong said he couldn’t estimate when a proposed set of revisions would be ready to present to the council.
“We haven’t started the draft yet,” said. “We haven’t had time to digest all the information that we’ve received from both sides.”
Robert Cadwallader, 817-390-7641
Mansfield City Council meeting
7 p.m. Jan. 26
1200 E. Broad St.
Open to the public.