Opinion

Drilling limits would protect Joe Pool dam

THE EDITORIAL BOARD

Fishermen and observers gathered Friday at the spillway of the Joe Pool Lake dam.
Fishermen and observers gathered Friday at the spillway of the Joe Pool Lake dam. pmoseley@star-telegram.com

The Texas Railroad Commission and the Army Corps of Engineers could end up in a collision over oil and gas drilling near the Joe Pool Lake dam, but they can avoid a clash.

After an extensive, peer-reviewed study, the corps wants to ban drilling, including hydraulic fracturing (fracking), within 4,000 feet of the dam.

The federal agency also wants to reject all injection wells within 5 miles of the dam for fear of “induced seismicity,” or earthquakes that could damage the structure’s stability.

There are significant fears about drilling activities, particularly injection wells, triggering earthquakes. Nobody wants the Joe Pool Lake dam, in Dallas County south of Grand Prairie, to be threatened.

But Railroad Commission Executive Director Kimberly Corley has some good points to make, too. She sent a letter to the corps last week with questions about the new rules.

She pointed out that the Railroad Commission is the one and only regulator of oil and gas drilling in Texas. The Legislature passed a bill in its 2015 session to make the Railroad Commission’s supremacy in this area abundantly clear.

“We would like to understand how [the corps] made these decisions and how it intends to implement its actions,” Corley wrote.

Translation: “Hold on. You can’t do this without us.”

The corps since has downplayed the confrontational aspect of its new drilling limits.

Both agencies emphasize that public safety is their highest priority. Perhaps they could get together and agree on guidelines to protect the dam.

But here’s the rub: The Corps of Engineers and the Railroad Commission come at public safety from different directions.

The corps is notoriously protective of its dams and reservoirs. It tolerates no dangers to any of these projects.

The Railroad Commission, headed by three commissioners elected statewide, is notoriously protective of the oil and gas industry.

Some university studies have linked injection wells, which dispose of oil and gas drilling waste by pumping it underground at high pressure, with clusters of earthquakes. The Railroad Commission has yet to acknowledge the link.

With new drilling activity stymied by low oil and gas prices, there’s probably no real danger of the corps’ new limits being tested soon.

The commission and the corps should use the time to reach agreement on reasonable ways to protect the Joe Pool Lake dam.

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