Sunday, September 25, 2022

Elections Have Consequences

U.S. Senator Lindsey Graham, (R-South Carolina) once said, “elections have consequences,” in defending his vote for a liberal Supreme Court Justice nominee named Sonia Sotomayor. He didn’t agree with the nominee’s liberal stances, but he understood that the nominee was the President’s choice, and it was the President’s choice to make.

In Flower Mound, the “NFL” slate won the recent municipal election. They unseated a popular, well-financed, three-term incumbent mayor and established a new Council majority. Three times as many people voted in our last election than has ever voted in previous Flower Mound municipal election history. The new Council majority was elected with a mandate from 6,000 citizens, who signed the Flower Mound Cares Association petition to place a moratorium on applications for Centralized Gas Collection, Compression, and Storage facilities. Many of these same people also wanted a citizen’s Oil & Gas Advisory Board  to review the Town’s ordinances to make sure that gas drilling operations were conducted using the best practices and in the safest possible manner.

The NFL slate (with an assist from Councilmen Steve Dixon and Tom Hayden) has done a good job understanding their election mandate by placing moratoriums on new gas well applications and centralized collection facilities. They have appointed a diverse and talented group to serve on the Oil & Gas Advisory Board. However, despite these efforts, Flower Mound is on the verge of administratively approving Titan’s permit, which will pave the way for 20-24 gas wells to be drilled on Hilliard Field -in the center of a densely populated area of town.

Citizens are now asking: Why is this happening? The answer is simple. Several gas permits, including Titan’s for Hilliard Field, were grand-fathered before the moratorium was in place. The Town Council and staff believe they have no choice but to approve Titan’s request, and they may well do so in the next week. This is why Prakash Parameswaran and Virginia Simonson have filed a law suit asking a judge to stop the Town from administratively approving Titan’s permit.

We know the Town can enter into a “stand-still agreement” with the plaintiffs (Ms. Simonson and Mr. Parameswaran), which could essentially put a legal hold on Titan’s application to begin drilling on Hilliard Field. There is ample legal precedent for a stand-still agreement, and it makes sense for them to do so. If the plaintiffs prevail in court, yet the Town has allowed Titan to drill before the case is heard by a judge, there is a probability that the permit would be declared invalid. In this case, all construction and drilling would have to be reversed, removed, or shut-down. And, although, Titan and Mr. Hilliard are undoubtedly aware of this lawsuit, they could conceivably blame (and sue) the Town for administratively approving a permit next week that is at risk of later being invalidated.

Yes, elections do have consequences and it is my hope that the new council majority will continue to stand firm on the mandate they were given–especially if there is a way for everyone to get what they want.  Technology that allows Titan to drill further south, for the same sought-after minerals, is closer to becoming a reality for the gas industry.  Isn’t it worth a legal hold if we can have the minerals extracted in a less densely populated area?

I suppose that if the council directs the Town staff to put a legal hold on approving the Titan application, there could be a risk of a law suit from Titan. But Titan has already filed suit against the Town due to the denials given to variances they requested from the Oil & Gas Board of Appeals. Titan alleges that those denials (backed strongly by a majority of residents) were arbitrary and capricious.

Our council has two choices. They can follow their mandate and use a legal hold strategy, or they can cave in fear of yet another gas company’s law suit. Didn’t the town win the Red Oak/Riverwalk case?  Didn’t Williams agree to settle the pipeline gas suit? Should a Town capitulate on any disagreement to avoid court? That is our Town’s decision.  But let’s hope the council follows Senator Graham’s example and does what is right, rather than what is easier.

Rebecca Belcher
Flower Mound, TX

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