Fort Worth school board to vote on gas leases worth $2.5 million

FORT WORTH -- Fort Worth school board members are expected to vote on nearly $2.5 million in 10 gas lease bids tonight, and some community members wonder why the trustees are taking action on the matter at all.

The bids include mineral leases on about 480 acres of property across the district.

But some people are concerned that trustees are breaking the spirit of a 90-day waiting period set in November when board members delayed taking action on bids that included gas well sites within 1,200 feet of district property.

"The whole idea was to come up with a model policy for well sites by inserting into leases requirements for low-emissions technology that would be safe for schools," said Libby Willis, of the League of Neighborhood Associations.

District spokesman Clint Bond said that the waiting period was specifically for the two bids that were within 1,200 feet of schools in south Fort Worth and that those bids have since been pulled.

Bond said the 10 bids being considered tonight all meet district policy.

Though the city requires that well sites be farther than 600 feet from schools, the district's policy states that it will not enter into gas-lease contracts if such sites are within 1,200 feet, unless a waiver is granted.

The two bids last month, submitted by XTO Energy, were for sites that fell within 1,200 feet. XTO offered additional safety measures, but trustees decided to wait three months to review the material more.

Board President Ray Dickerson said at last month's meeting that the district would "do its homework" to ensure that officials made informed decisions on all gas leases, not just on those two bids.

Trustee Juan Rangel said that the district needs more information and that he will not vote for the 10 bids tonight. Rangel has been meeting with gas company officials, community representatives, district officials and environmental experts about gas drilling as it relates to schools.

He said the district needs to review its policy, initially set in 2008, because more data on gas well impact is available now, such as emission studies.

Gas company representatives said each bid should be treated as an individual piece of business.

"We've done everything that has been asked of us [for the bids] and followed all the rules that have been established to date," said Brian Murnahan, a spokesman for Chesapeake Energy, which has bids up for consideration tonight.

Murnahan said that if the district rejects the bids tonight or delays voting on them, Chesapeake will continue its drilling plans but will reconfigure them to exclude district property, meaning the district would not collect royalties.

He said that safety is important to Chesapeake and that the company has various safeguards in place as part of routine operations.

Eva-Marie Ayala,