By State Rep. Michelle Beckley and Dr. Cyrus Reed
In the midst of the COVID-19 crisis and social unrest over the killing of George Floyd and others by police, the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) – not to be confused with the critical movement of Black Lives Matter– had been proposing to lease the mineral rights under lands in Texas. While Texas is well accustomed to oil and gas drilling on private property, what’s different about this proposal is it would allow third-party oil and gas companies to use directional drilling to “frack” right under a section of public lands, including our beloved Lake Lewisville, and in a separate process, Somerville Lake near Giddings, Texas. In case you didn’t know it, Lake Lewisville serves as one of the municipal water supplies for Dallas, Denton and other cities in our area, and Somerville Lake is a water supply source for Brenham, including service as the site of a Texas Parks and Wildlife state park.
Fortunately, this week the Bureau announced it was pulling the proposal on its website:
“Please note that …Parcel 6679 (Lewisville Lake) has been removed from the sale. Due to this acreage being removed and acreage corrections of parcels 6674 and 6675, the total sale acreage has changed. Refer to the sale notice for the final acreage associated with each parcel.”
The fact that the Bureau pulled the parcel from potential leasing is testimount to fast action by the City of Denton, Dallas Water Utilities, citizens and conservation organizations, who began filing comments and protest letters over the last month. Unfortunately, Somerville Lake near Giddings is still being considered for leasing.
The proposal was announced earlier this year following a brief 10-day comment period. However, the Bureau had already declared “A Finding of No Significant Impacts” — concluding that somehow drilling under lakes that provide fishing, boating, swimming and hiking opportunities to millions of Texans, as well as an important drinking water resource to millions more, will have no impact. Whatever your feelings about oil and gas drilling are in general, we believe that the proposal to drill under a section of Lake Lewisville is a particularly foolhardy one given the unique position of the lake in our community, adjacent to a relatively urbanized area, upheld by a dam that is old, earthen and at risk of failure, and in current use as a drinking water resource for millions of Texans.
We have seen this before. These are the same areas that the Bureau backed away from after public outcry in 2016, when residents and more than a dozen cities, including Dallas and Denton, filed formal protests. Conservation groups also protested the fracking plan, saying oil and gas development threatened to cause leaks, spills and earthquakes that could compromise water supplies and dam integrity.
It was outlandish that in the middle of a pandemic and an oil and gas pricing collapse, the Bureau is proposing to move forward again trying to frack oil and gas under Texas public waters used for local and state park recreation, fishing, swimming and as a potable municipal drinking source. A so-called Finding of No Significant Impact is a cruel joke on Texans who depend on these water resources for recreation and drinking water needs.
Fortunately, cities reacted. The Denton City Council voted last week to authorize the Mayor to send a protest letter to the Bureau about the proposed drilling under Lake Lewisville. Other cities like Dallas through their Water Utilities made their views known as well.
It is beyond dangerous to frack beneath water supplies while creating new earthquake risks for dams. The Bureau did the right thing by canceling its reckless plan. However, Lake Somerville is still on the chopping block. Cities and residents can do their part by filing formal letters of protest. More information about the leasing process for these parcels is available here.
Rep. Michelle Beckley is the State Representative for Texas House District 65, which encompasses the earthen dam of Lake Lewisville, as well as several cities that depend upon the lake for water supplies and recreation.
Cyrus Reed, PhD, is the interim director of the Lone Star Chapter of the Sierra Club, the state chapter of the Sierra Club.
Editor’s note: A previous version of this editorial ran in the Denton Record-Chronicle before the Bureau of Land Management canceled its drilling plans. It has been updated to reflect the recent decision.