ARLINGTON -- Natural gas drillers in Arlington could be required to install round-the-clock video surveillance systems at certain well sites to improve security and help public safety officials determine whether gas releases or other incidents were accidental, intentional or weather-related.
Though some drillers already monitor their sites, an ordinance amendment proposed to council members Tuesday could make security cameras mandatory for natural gas facilities within 1,000 feet of homes or other protected areas.
The City Council is also considering numerous ordinance changes designed to minimize the long-term impact of drilling operations on city infrastructure, the environment, nearby businesses and residents, and redevelopment possibilities.
Fire Chief Don Crowson said the security equipment could help deter vandalism and more serious crime, as well as help identify whether a mechanical failure, operator error or storm was behind a gas release.
"The industry is going to be here for a long time, and we want to take the necessary, proactive precautions that help keep the sites safe," Crowson said. "Having something that watches those sites is a good thing. People who live near those sites would believe it's a good thing, too."
Arlington has issued more than 300 gas well permits for locations throughout the city. Twenty-five permits are pending, Community Development and Planning Director Jim Parajon said.
Other proposed amendments include requiring drillers to paint emergency shut-off valves red so they can be quickly identified by firefighters, significantly raising the road damage fees paid by gas companies, setting time limits for drilling and increasing the number of residents notified during the initial permit process.
Though Arlington has not experienced any catastrophes at well sites, Mayor Robert Cluck said he favors increasing security and capturing video that could make it easier to determine what happened when things go wrong.
"The more security we can provide, the better," Cluck said. "We do something very dangerous. As long as we respect that and treat it appropriately, that's OK."
This year, Arlington firefighters have responded to natural gas releases at two sites caused by weather or equipment issues.
Though Councilman Mel LeBlanc is concerned about how much surveillance cameras might cost drillers, he said, he applauds the city for working to maintain a balance between "underregulating and overregulating" the industry while protecting residents' health, wealth and safety.
"There is a median path we should be taking here to make sure we don't strangle or retard the efforts of the natural gas industry or make the environment difficult for them to operate in," LeBlanc said. "At the same time, we want to protect citizens."
Tuesday's presentation was the council's first public discussion since January on possible amendments to the ordinance, which was last revised in 2007. The council, which has discussed ordinance revisions for more than a year, plans to hold at least one more afternoon work session on the issue before a public hearing and a vote on which rules to adopt.
"We've got a strong ordinance in place right now. We've been proactive in terms of addressing noise issues, truck traffic issues, setback issues, air pollution issues," LeBlanc said on the months-long delay in updating regulations. "There really wasn't a sense of urgency. ... We are tweaking an already good ordinance."
Natural gas company representatives were told of the proposed changes during discussions with the Fire Department this summer, Crowson said.
Chesapeake Energy monitors its equipment with on-site personnel and remotely through sensors, spokesman Brian Murnahan said.
"I could assure you that Chesapeake takes our site security very seriously. We have invested in our own security patrol team, complete with marked cars, to visit our sites day and night," Murnahan said. "We also have our operations team on each site daily."
Susan Schrock, 817-709-7578