Gas drilling sites near Cowboys Stadium stir concern in Arlington

ARLINGTON -- For drilling opponents, the approval of a well site near Cowboys Stadium and another expected to be approved next week are signs of how far Arlington's city leaders have gone to embrace urban gas drilling.

Not only does placing a drill site within 3,000 feet of the $1.2 billion stadium raise safety issues for the fans, neighborhoods and a nearby hospital, opponents say, it takes away from efforts to maximize Arlington's entertainment district.

"It doesn't make sense to me to invest in this kind of infrastructure and then turn around and do this," Arlington resident Faith Chatham said. "Yeah, you might get some royalties, but at what cost?"

The City Council voted June 8 to approve the Truman Street drilling site near East Division and North Collins streets. The site, the closest to Cowboys Stadium so far, is 2,796 feet from the stadium's west doors.

The well site, now a vacant lot, is sandwiched between a motel, a car lot and other commercial businesses.

The other proposed drill location, known as the Ross Trails Site near the 1100 block of North Center Street, was tabled at the driller's request June 8 but is on Tuesday's council agenda. It is 4,400 feet from the stadium.

Chatham notes that the Ross Trails site is not far from the Center Street Bridge over Interstate 30, part of the Three Bridges project that is supposed to be one of the gateways to Cowboys Stadium and the entertainment district. Single-family residences and some commercial development are nearby.

Chatham said the Center Street site could be a blight on the area and a potential safety hazard for the stadium and Arlington Memorial Hospital, which is several blocks away. She said she believes that if there was an explosion, the hospital and stadium could be cut off from each other.

'A stretch'

Councilman Mel LeBlanc, whose district includes both drill sites, called it "a stretch" to connect the Ross Trails site to Cowboys Stadium, adding that drilling rigs are in and out in a matter of weeks.

LeBlanc, a staunch supporter of gas drilling, said that the safety risks are minimal and that there is no conclusive proof that gas drilling is fouling Arlington's air. He suggests that the hordes of trucks working on the I-30 project have done more to cause air quality problems than drilling.

"When you look at the empirical evidence, you don't see what they're complaining about," LeBlanc said. "I think they're barking up the wrong tree when they pick out drill sites as culprits of bad air."

He said the critics are a "very vocal minority" who have adopted a zero-tolerance stance toward gas drilling and predict the most extreme, catastrophic outcomes.

"I've heated my house for 30 years with natural gas, and I don't worry about it being piped into my house. But under their line of thinking, I should be," LeBlanc said. "They're saying when the gas well blows up it's going to cut off the hospital from the stadium because it's so close to the well site. ... Some of their arguments are so crazy it's sometimes hard to keep a straight face."

Dallas Cowboys spokesman Brett Daniels said team officials have no qualms about the city's drilling plans.

"We have been in communication with the city and feel good about what we have been told by them regarding those topics," Daniels said by e-mail.

Air quality

Another gas drilling critic, Kim Feil, said the city's latest draft of a revised drilling ordinance essentially ignores air quality.

"When we try to talk about concerns about air quality, they stick with the subject matter of landscape and economics," said Feil, who's become known for rapping about drilling issues before the council.

"They talk about the sense of sight and the sense of sound, but nobody is talking about the sense of smell and what people are inhaling as a result of gas drilling," Feil said.

Despite her criticism, Feil signed a gas lease after she and her husband were told by a landman that drilling would happen in their neighborhood regardless of whether they participated. She said she plans to use the gas revenue on an air-filtration system for her home.

Feil also remains frustrated that many renters in the area are left in the dark about proposed drill sites.

The latest draft of the revised gas well ordinance talks about extending notifications as far as 1,000 feet from the drill site but still leaves the question of how renters will learn about these issues.

Darren Groth, Arlington's gas well coordinator, said finding ways to notify renters has been discussed. But he noted that Arlington already informs the public by placing a sign at the proposed site, mailing a notice to property owners, posting notices at City Hall, running an advertisement in the newspaper and placing a notice on the city's website.

LeBlanc isn't opposed to finding another way to notify renters but insists that the overwhelming majority of Arlington residents approve of gas drilling by pointing to the large number who have signed gas leases

"I think its incumbent on apartment managers to notify people," LeBlanc said. "I think they're in a better position to do it than the city, but maybe we should look into as part of a more extensive notification system. But we would be doing it strictly as a courtesy."

BILL HANNA, 817-390-7698