At the May 3rd Town Council meeting, a large horde of executives, lobbyists, lawyers, PR flacks and others beholden to Williams Production and other gas drillers flooded Town Hall. They were there to pressure council members to disregard the will of 6,000 Flower Mound citizens who had petitioned for a moratorium on centralized waste water collection facilities and related pipelines.
Eagle-eyed observers couldn’t help but notice Mayor Jody Smith texting on her iPhone at key intervals throughout the meeting. Williams representatives huddled outside the council chambers were texting nearly simultaneously. Were they texting each other? Why was Smith texting at all instead of listening to the constituents who were addressing her?
It was equally interesting to see the drilling lobby sporting stickers proclaiming “Common Sense.” Though I doubt it was their intention, they seemed to be suggesting we could sure use a little common sense from our Mayor and Town Council for a change. After all, their decisions lately have been awfully hard to justify.
Allow me to offer a few common sense observations on the issues facing Flower Mound as we approach the pivotal elections on Saturday, May 8.
Common sense means keeping the inherently risky process of gas drilling, especially hydraulic fracturing (“fracking”), as far away from neighborhoods, schools and waterways as possible. This is especially important now that we’ve learned that Williams not only spilled 3,000 gallons of toxic flowback water at the Cummings site in March, but they failed to alert the town immediately, as required. In fact, they waited eight hours while scurrying to cover-up the mess before sunrise. They were caught red-handed and slapped with a fine, proving they simply can’t be trusted.
Common sense means that when a driller violates the town’s laws, they should be subject to more intense scrutiny in the future. They should not be granted additional variances to drill even closer to ponds, streams, habitats and waters of the state. (But they were.)
Common sense means when 6,000 citizens, more than 15 percent of eligible voters, exercise their constitutional rights by signing a petition demanding a moratorium on CCF applications, council members who were elected with fewer than 2,000 votes apiece should follow the will of the people.
Common sense does not mean putting the moratorium up for a vote in November, when the massive industrial facility will already be fully operational. That would make a mockery of the democratic process. (But they did.)
Common sense means doing a little research into how urban gas drilling is affecting other areas of the country. With a little effort, you find out about spills, leaks, emissions, health problems, explosions, evacuations, moratoria, lawsuits and other nasty byproducts of the drillers’ operations. You learn that the EPA has launched a $1.9 million, two-year study on the health and safety threats associated with the fracking process. You hear that the FRAC Act is pending in the U.S. Congress, which, among other things, would remove the “Halliburton loophole” that exempts oil and gas companies from several environmental regulations, like the Clean Air and Water Acts. In essence, you realize that the only justification for fracking in densely populated areas is pure, unadulterated greed.
Common sense means surveying the country to find towns where gas drillers and the local residents co-exist happily. I’ve been searching and asking around, and the only response I get is Midland/Odessa. Of course, those towns grew up around the oil industry (not vice-versa), and their economies are completely dependent upon oil. But we’ll overlook the differences and agree that they are the poster cities for urban drilling. So…who among us wants Flower Mound to become the next Midland/Odessa?
Common sense means you don’t permanently contaminate tens of millions of gallons of one precious resource (water) while extracting another (gas), especially in a region that must constantly weather droughts. (Williams recycles its flowback water in Colorado; why pinch pennies here?) And you don’t allow gas companies to transport toxic wastewater throughout town on trucks or through pipelines if they refuse to disclose what’s in it.
Common sense means that when the headlines are dominated by news of the worst oil drilling disaster in our nation’s history, you call a time-out to make certain all the best practices are in place for the drilling going on in your own back yard. You don’t wait until the accident happens, or assume that it never will, as our local officials have been doing. After all, prior to last week’s fatal explosion, a British Petroleum report suggested it was unlikely, or “virtually impossible,” for an accident to occur at one of its offshore rigs that would lead to a giant oil spill. We’ve seen how that worked out. Williams has assured us that their safeguards here are satisfactory as well. Somehow, that gives me little comfort.
Common sense means that when Williams’ own 10K filing lists a series of risks associated with its gas drilling operations – including fires, blowouts, cratering and explosions; uncontrolled releases of natural gas or well fluids; operator error; natural disasters; aging infrastructure and mechanical problems; damage to pipelines and pipeline blockages; damage caused by construction equipment; risks related to truck loading and unloading; and more – they know what they’re talking about. Call it fear-mongering if you like; but those are Williams’ words, not mine.
Common sense means even if you’re blinded by greed, you don’t sell the drillers your gas when the market price is near historic lows. As Dr. Anthony Ingraffea, a Cornell professor and expert on hydraulic fracturing, says, “If you’re a landowner, now is not a good time to sell your gas. It will never be worth less than it’s worth now.” Ironically, the biggest beneficiaries of a six-month moratorium would be the mineral owners who are fighting so hard against it.
Common sense means that when fewer than five percent of Flower Mound homeowners have leased their mineral rights, their narrow interests should not take priority over the health, safety and property values of the other 95 percent.
Common sense means the typical homeowner with a quarter-acre or less of land would never lease his mineral rights if he knew he would earn less than $50 per month in pre-tax royalties, plus a one-time $500 signing bonus.
Common sense means questioning the motives and timing of Williams’ public relations campaign just weeks before the election. They’ve been operating here for five years, but only launched their “informational” web site a month ago?
Common sense means when Williams says they want to be a good neighbor one day, and sues the town the next, they aren’t really such a good neighbor after all. In fact,
they’re the kind of neighbor you wish would just move out of the neighborhood altogether.
Common sense means scrutinizing a letter from Keystone Exploration, another driller operating in town, that publicly endorses the Smith, Robinson and Webb ticket. Am I the only one alarmed by this?
Common sense means questioning why national politicians are suddenly weighing in on the elections in little ole Flower Mound. Could it have anything to do with the huge contributions these politicians receive from oil and gas interests?
Common sense means wondering who is paying for the TV advertising blitz for the mayor and her sidekicks. What is so important about this local race that commercial airtime has been bought on CNN, ESPN, FOX News and other networks? Isn’t that just a tad bit unusual?
Common sense means asking why Mayor Smith would twist a comment made by her opponent into the central issue of her re-election campaign, despite Melissa Northern’s repeated insistence that she does not, and never would, advocate turning FM 2499 into a toll road. Smith knows 2499 is a paid-for, state-owned road that cannot be turned into a toll road. So why is she ignoring her own pledge to abide by the Texas Ethics Commission’s Code of Fair Campaign Practices by deliberately lying about her opponent’s stated position?
Common sense means Smith should probably have picked a different word than “Integrity” to put on her campaign signs. “Unaccountable” would fit.
Common sense means questioning why the candidate filings by the Smith, Robinson and Webb campaigns don’t add up. In fact, they don’t even come close, with tens of thousands of dollars unaccounted for.
Common sense means noting that the mayor has supplied 63 percent of the total funds raised to date by Webb, and 74% of Robinson’s haul. Is it that much of a stretch to think that these two men, should they be elected, would vote exactly as the mayor instructed them to?
Common sense means supporting a ticket that abides by ethical campaign practices, is not endorsed by companies seeking to turn our suburb into an industrial, gas-drilling wasteland, and is committed to returning to the SMARTGrowth Master Plan that helped make Flower Mound one of the best places to live in America.
Because Flower Mound is NOT FOR SALE.