Consider big picture regarding natural gas development

Dear Flower Mound Mayor Melissa Northern and Council Members:

I appreciate the opportunity to have served the Town of Flower Mound as mediator on the Oil & Gas Advisory Board. I enjoyed working with and getting to know the Board Members. The group was very professional in its task and the members very cooperative notwithstanding some divergence of interests in how specific recommendations were to be structured.

Chairman Dennis McKaige has advised that the Board has been asked to continue for a period of time to hold public hearings and perhaps do additional work as an outgrowth of those hearings. Since the Board has now made its recommendations to you, however, I feel that my role as mediator, designed from inception as a nonvoting seat, has come to a logical end. Please accept this tender, therefore, of my resignation from the Board.

I would be remiss, however, in not also providing my input to you as the policy makers charged with the responsibility of regulating natural gas development within your jurisdiction. I offer that now for your consideration.

As could be expected, public health and safety issues were well fleshed out during the Board’s meetings and comprise the foundation for the Board’s many recommendations for changes to the Town’s Oil and Gas and other ordinances.

Not much attention was given by the Board to economic or political issues associated with energy independence generally, or to the impact of gas development on the economies of the Town, the region or our state. Perhaps due to the sparcity of industry representation, there was no attempt to quantify costs of compliance with the changes being recommended. I hope that these issues will become part of the discussion as you begin your review.

It is undisputed that our nation’s appetite for and use of the world’s energy resources has fostered thriving economies in parts of the world where terrorism and anti-Americanism flourish. The fragile alliances with many of these countries could be at risk in coming years as a result of the activities we see on the news today, including:

• Spreading turmoil in Africa and the Middle East with the recent toppling of the government of Tunisia and the growing unrest in Egypt.
• As this letter is being drafted, protests which have reportedly spread to Yemen;
• Commentator discussions this morning as to the real possibility that one of America’s strongest allies in maintaining energy equilibrium, Saudi Arabia, will come under fire.

My reason for asking for your attention to these matters is not to address the political background for or against the outrage being expressed by the people of these countries nor to overdramatize the issues being faced in Flower Mound. Rather it is to bring back into the public dialogue the impact that chaos brings to the control and reliability of the world’s energy markets.

Not many today remember when the nation’s last energy crisis was felt. The OPEC cartel’s complete control over energy resources led to shortages and unavailability of gasoline and diesel fuel, the hardships of which were played out disastrously in our economy and in the lives of everyday Americans. Commuting to work, traveling for business and pleasure, the cost of groceries and much more were affected.

In the midst of this picture, we in Flower Mound, Texas find ourselves situated atop a major source and supply of natural gas. The technological advances that led to the development of the Barnett Shale, and now to similar formations throughout the nation, can provide a vital stepping stone to allow our nation to step away from our dependence on foreign sources of energy.

Natural gas has an impressive safety record in the production of energy. The plentiful resources under development will allow new and innovative uses that in the best of times will benefit all citizens. In the worse case scenarios, with the stakes being raised on the long-term continuity of foreign supplies, this resource could prove critical to our nation. Alternate energy sources such as wind and solar are years away from being able to provide the amount of energy required for our nation’s needs.

The development of cost-efficient technologies for new and converted natural gas powered vehicles is already well underway. A major hurdle to their widespread public use have been the logistics of creating a public system of refueling stations. Safe natural gas powered vehicles have been in use now for many years by various governmental units and in private industry where central, on-site fuel stations can be maintained. Attention is now being turned to the ease of adding public refueling stations at compressor stations already existing and to be constructed as part of the pipeline grid.

Natural gas powered plants, with their clean air technology, provide a reliable alternative to coal-fired plants, an important consideration in our area which is a designated “non-attainment” area pursuant to federal and state environmental laws.

In contrast to the acrimonious state-wide debate of just a couple of years ago over permitting of new coal fired plants, Panda Energy is right now in the process of completing a new electric generating facility in Sherman Texas*. The source fuel will be piped directly from the Barnett Shale. With an abundant supply, the low cost, long term contracts necessary to foster this kind of development are being put in place. Texas enjoys its own intrastate power grid and increasing supply will benefit our citizens as costs continue to spiral downward from the highs of just a few years ago.

The Town of Flower Mound, and its regulation of local natural gas development, may not seem like a big player in the overall scheme of these issues. I would differ with this perspective. The Town has long been recognized as a leader in its protectiveness of its citizens with regard to oil and gas operations. Other towns and cities continue to look to Flower Mound as a basis for determinations of how to address their own ordinances.

Much as the power of one vote may not seem determinative of an election, the ability of one city to develop a reasoned and sound approach to this critical area, could be determinative of how the region, the state and even the nation is able to proceed on this matter. Citizen groups from New York, Pennsylvania, Colorado, New Mexico and other states, as well as numerous local coalitions in other parts of North Texas, are actively following and participating with Flower Mound citizens on these recommendations. Law review articles are being written as far away as Vermont on the specific details of your ordinances. Your impact as you make the decisions in this arena will be huge.

You will be asked to evaluate the best means to protect the citizens of Flower Mound from the health and safety risks that are legitimately in the forefront of regulating gas exploration and production. If great swaths of the Town’s portion of the Barnett Shale are effectively foreclosed from production, however, by your decisions, not only will the Town’s citizens who own and wish to lease their minerals be adversely impacted (along with the Town’s unquantified share of the income that could be realized to the benefit of all) but the ramifications could affect our nation in ways that could adversely impact generations to come.

That the Barnett Shale and its offspring are a gift that could allow our children and our children’s children to become free of dependence on foreign sources of energy, and reduce our funding of economies openly dedicated to our (and their destruction) is a consideration that should be part of the dialogue.

Thank you again for the opportunity to have been of service in this endeavor.

Best Regards,

Virginia A. Moore

“The Panda Sherman Power Project is a clean natural gas fueled combined-cycle facility consisting of two combustion turbines and one steam turbine. Once built, the plant is expected to
supply the power needs of approximately 450,000 homes and should infuse almost $250,000,000 into the area’s economy.” (01-29-2011)


Virginia A. Moore is a Flower Mound-based attorney Board Certified in Oil, Gas & Mineral Law.

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