Even for the less involved among us, gas well regulations are beginning to float back toward the surface of discussion around Denton.
In order to address specific questions about personal and environmental safety, the Denton Drilling Awareness Group organized an info session at Denton’s North Branch Library Sunday afternoon.
Zacariah Hildenbrand, a professor of biochemistry at the University of Texas at Arlington, was the afternoon’s primary speaker. Through his research with the Collaborative Laboratories for Environmental Analysis and Remediation, Hildebrand has taken extensive samples and analyzed information about natural gas production across the state.
The presentation came just over one week after the Denton ISD school board decided unanimously to close three of the six gas wells on the Guyer High School campus, and in the midst of City Council reevaluation of gas well ordinances.
As of Sunday afternoon, it seemed that council members, three of whom were present, leaned toward a doubling of the current reverse setback requirement.
If that were to pass, no new homes could be built within 500 feet of a gas well’s base. The change would significantly impact planned development near Hunter and Cole ranches, where developers are proposing 15,000 new homes near many old gas wells and miles of high-pressure, underground pipelines.
When asked by a member of the audience whether he would consider 500 feet a safe distance, given all the data he’s gathered and studied, Hildenbrand replied simply, “No, no I would not.
“I mean, I think that, at a bare minimum, it’s 1,500 feet, 2,000.”
Sunday afternoon, he cited 11 scientific studies that recommended setbacks of 1,500-8,202 feet.
Paul Meltzer, a city council member, made clear during a question-and-answer portion of the session that he was skeptical about the need for such a large setback.
His questions, which boarded on argumentative, relied upon what is an ideal solution as opposed to what is politically feasible, referencing a study he’d seen that focused specifically on Fort Worth and called for a setback of only 600 feet.
While none of the studies listed by Hildenbrand were that geographically close to Denton, he said the setback limit deals primarily with air quality, so geology plays a relatively small role.
Hildenbrand was often less direct when faced by questions probing the political and legislative implications of certain proposals. When challenged on his stance that oil and gas industries can be made cleaner and more efficient instead of kept increasingly obsolete in favor of renewable energy, he painted himself as the pragmatist, opting for the lesser of the evils.