Monday, February 26, 2024

Your 2 Cents: Call it ‘Ravage the Earth Day’ in Flower Mound

What better day to announce the approval of six new gas wells in Flower Mound – complete with variances allowing Williams Production to ignore the town’s so-called exemplary ordinances – than the 40th anniversary of Earth Day? 

Come on, people, wrap yourselves in green and raise your voices in unison: “Drill, baby drill!”


Last night, the town’s Oil & Gas Appeals Board, stocked with appointees of the current Town Council, voted nearly unanimously to allow Williams Production to proceed with two new pad sites and at least six new wells on the Smith property in western Flower Mound.  Just weeks earlier, the board had denied the request; but after what can best be called cosmetic changes to the applications (mostly achieved by reconfiguring the pad-site dimensions), the board bent over and invited Williams to drill them again.


It helped that the meeting was orchestrated by a large contingent of Oklahoma-based Williams executives who passed out “YES” stickers and handy index cards to help their lease-holders recite the company line to the board.  Their voices drowned out the words of caution offered by residents who couldn’t believe the town was, yet again, allowing a company to drill and erect tank batteries roughly 200 to 400 feet from a pond, a creek, an ephemeral stream and a floodplain.  It’s also smack dab in the middle of an upland habitat (in other words, a zero-foot setback).  


The minimum setback requirement for these environmentally sensitive areas is 500 feet.  Make that was 500 feet.


No wonder the pro-drilling majority on Town Council voted Monday to put off their decision on the proposed moratorium on certain new drilling applications until their meeting on May 3.  We sure wouldn’t want to interfere with Williams’ “drilling master plan.”  After all, the Council essentially forsook Flower Mound’s vaunted SMARTGrowth plan for the company’s blueprint years ago.


For those keeping score at home, that makes it Drillers 16 – Flower Mound 2. Yes, 16 of 18 natural gas drilling pads approved to date have required variances.  Keep that in mind the next time you hear Mayor Jody Smith boasting that the town “has one of the strongest, if not the strongest, gas drilling and pipeline ordinances in Texas.”


That’s like Cowboys coach Wade Phillips bragging about his defense’s impenetrable goal-line defense after giving up 38 Hail Mary touchdown passes.


Ironically, the same Shiloh area lease-holders who have complained most loudly about the dangerous tanker truck traffic in their neighborhoods just exacerbated their woes.  Soon they’ll rush back to Town Council demanding relief in the form of a massive centralized wastewater collection facility fed by a web of pipelines throughout the town. 


They’re eager to keep those monthly royalty checks coming, but they expect the rest of us to pay the price for reducing that pesky truck traffic.  (Yet we are the “socialists?”)


Let’s hope, for everyone’s sake, that truck traffic is the worst byproduct of this latest risky decision. 


On Monday, hundreds of people were awoken around 5:00 a.m. and forced to evacuate their homes in Caddo Parish, LA, after a well being drilled in the Haynesville Shale encountered a layer of natural gas much shallower than expected.  Gas spewed into the air and contaminated a freshwater aquifer that supplies the local drinking water.  Residents still haven’t gone back to their homes as of today.  No telling how long before they’ll be able to use their well water again, if ever, as the level of gas found in some of the wells was so high as to risk explosion. 


In what seems to be typical of the industry’s reaction time, Dallas-based Exco Resources waited roughly 12 hours before calling in emergency crews, according to reports. 


“We’re erring on the side of safety” by evacuating the area, said Parish Commissioner Michael Thibodeaux. 


Those words ring hollow the day after a catastrophic accident. 

The more intelligent time to voice them is long before the air and water is fouled.  Isn’t that’s why we have setback ordinances in the first place? 


Still, Flower Mound Mayor Smith says (Note: It helps to use your best Sarah Palin impression when reading this actual quote): “When that health and safety issue shows its head and we see facts that show it is unsafe, I’ll be the first one at the podium asking for that moratorium.” 


How reactive of you, Madam Mayor.  I can’t imagine why so many of us can’t wait to vote you out of office on May 8.


The time has come for proactive leadership in Flower Mound.  Leaders who demand accountability from themselves, and from businesses operating within our limits.  If Williams wants to drill here, they should be required to operate using best practices and, at a minimum, adhere to our existing ordinances.


They’ve already spilled 3,000 gallons of toxic flowback water at another site in Flower Mound.  As far as we know, it hasn’t contaminated our water.  Yet.  We also know they haven’t been fined for the accident by state or local authorities.


To the contrary, the town just rewarded them with more variances so they could drill even closer to protected waters of the state.


Happy Earth Day, Flower Mound.


Ladd Biro owns a marketing and public relations firm and moonlights as a syndicated sports columnist.  He has lived in Flower Mound since 2002.



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