Arlington council approves natural gas drilling under Randol Mill Park

ARLINGTON -- The city will receive a nearly $2 million lease bonus for allowing natural gas drilling under Randol Mill Park and other public land in north Arlington.

On Tuesday, the Arlington City Council unanimously approved the $8,500-an-acre deal with Titan Operating for the exploration and production of oil and gas under 230 acres, including not only the 151-acre park but also the city's rights of way along Northwest Green Oaks Boulevard and other nearby tracts.

Titan, however, does not have surface rights and is not allowed to drill on the parkland, according to the contract.

The city will also receive 25 percent of royalties from the land, which will be accessed from Titan's drill site north of the Interlochen neighborhood.

Ninety percent of the $1.96 million bonus check and 50 percent of the gas royalties will be invested by the Arlington Tomorrow Foundation, a not-for-profit foundation created in 2007 to manage much of the revenue generated from gas leases on public property.

The foundation manages about $55 million in gas revenue, and twice a year it awards matching grants to city departments, nonprofit agencies, and other community groups for projects and programs benefiting the public.

Resident concerns

Not everyone is happy about the city's support for urban drilling.

During a public hearing before the contract vote, southeast Arlington resident Jeana Cole spoke in opposition of the council's authority to lease the city's mineral rights without putting the issue before all voters.

"I don't think nine members of a sitting council should make that decision for the city. I think it should be the voters' right to make that decision," Cole said.

"Those contracts will give the oil and gas industry our public-owned land way past our lifetime."

Because of health concerns, one resident called for a drilling moratorium while another, Kimberly Frankland, asked that the city at least require drillers to pay fees to cover costs associated with emissions testing.

"I think the citizens of Arlington would like scientific proof of what is in gas well emissions. What we can't see and smell can be harmful," Frankland said.

The council also approved two separate gas well permit requests and denied another, all in south Arlington.

At the Sue Barnett site, the city will allow four gas wells on 4 acres north of Southeast Parkway and west of New York Avenue. Southeast Arlington Councilman Robert Rivera was the only member to vote against the Sue Barnett deal.

At the so-called Landing site, the city will allow six gas wells on roughly 10 acres near Interstate 20 and Osprey Drive.

Councilman criticized

The council denied a request for two well permits on 4 acres at the so-called Palos Verdes site at South Cooper Street and north of Southwest Green Oaks Boulevard. The driller did not have all waivers necessary to drill closer than 600 feet from a protected structure.

Resident Ed McGuinness criticized north Arlington Councilman Mel LeBlanc for his recent public statements supporting drilling on "all 99 square miles of Arlington." McGuinness said the council's attitude scares him.

"I just urge you to slow down. We just don't know enough about how dangerous these wells are," McGuinness said.

"You really should take a step back and review all these studies coming out."

LeBlanc said he sympathizes with those who oppose urban drilling but defended his stance.

"The truth is there is overwhelming support for gas drilling," said LeBlanc, who is unopposed in his quest for a third term on the council. "Until there is concrete evidence that it is deleterious, it's our duty as elected officials to help residents access their minerals. It's a property-rights issue."

SUSAN SCHROCK, 817-390-7639