Local City Council Approves New Gas Wells

Arlington City Council
Arlington City Hall | Image by City of Arlington

Despite a chorus of opposition, city council members in Arlington have initially approved two new gas wells at South Watson Road. The well permits were requested by Fort Worth-based TEP Barnett, an affiliate of the world’s fourth-largest oil and gas company, TOTAL Group.

Those for and against the new natural gas drilling project voiced their concerns during nearly two hours of testimony. Council Member Nikkie Hunter from District 3 was the only member to vote against the permit.

TEP Barnett currently operates 31 drill sites in Arlington. If final approval to enlarge the drill zone is delivered on June 13, the company can then begin requesting drilling permits as soon as late 2023, according to a city report.

Council Member Andrew Piel, District 4, acknowledged the health concerns raised by environmental advocates and residents, such as poor air quality.

Retired physician and resident Russ Gamber expressed his opposition to the measure. He cited studies revealing a quarter of Tarrant County children are diagnosed with asthma by age 9, twice the U.S. average.

According to Gamber, emissions in the area created by transportation and industrial production lead to elevated ozone levels, driving higher asthma rates among the community’s children.

“This is a public health issue for some 20% of Arlington’s 100,000 children and, I might add, our city’s elderly population and those other adults with chronic lung diseases,” Gamber told the council.

Supporters of the project were also present, including some who earn their livelihood in the oil and gas industry.

According to Piel, the city has little control over stopping the project due to House Bill 40, a state law passed in 2015 that prohibits cities from banning fracking or implementing regulations that are not “commercially reasonable” that would limit natural gas drilling. In other words, the city risks being sued if they vote down gas drilling permits on environmental or health grounds, according to Piel.

“I’m going to vote to approve this gas well tonight, but I take no joy in doing so. … I do not do it because I love the gas industry but because the state of Texas has pointed a gun at this city’s head,” said Piel.

Employees from TEP Barnett also joined the session, stressing the company’s economic contributions to the area and its commitment to safety. According to Leslie Garvis, spokeswoman for TEP Barnett, the company has previously taken responsibility for gas well incidents in North Texas, resolving underlying causes.

“There is no difference between what is important to our company versus what is important to the Arlington communities. We are one and the same,” said TEP Barnett employee Taylor Mitchell.

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