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February 5, 2013

Midyear Meeting Preview: “Beyond the Noise” of Fracking

ABA Panel to Discuss the Environmental, Community and Economic Effects of Fracking

On the same day panelists discuss the benefits and impacts of fracking at the _’s Midyear Meeting in Dallas, the city plan commission there will rehear a contentious proposal that could open the way for gas companies to drill within city limits.

“Fracking is becoming increasingly controversial because the well sites are getting closer and closer to home,” said Terrence (Terry) S. Welch, a lawyer at Brown & Hofmeister, LLP and one of the industry experts on a panel at the Midyear Meeting that will explore the controversial oil and gas extraction process known as hydraulic fracturing, or fracking.

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“Beyond the
Fracking Wars”

Thursday, Feb. 7, 2:45 p.m.

Welch, who has represented local governments for more than 30 years and, along with the other panelists is an author of a chapter in the forthcoming book Beyond the Fracking Wars: A Guide for Lawyers, Public Officials, Planners and Citizens, said the regulation of gas drilling has become increasingly political.

“When cities started addressing it, they were all over the place. Here in North Texas, some were supportive of gas drilling and you would find gas drilling 300 feet from a residence, which basically put it across the backyard fence. As the industry developed, more and more in this area of North Texas, there were a lot of concerns about the natural health effects of gas oil drilling,” Welch said.

Fracking has increased around the nation and the law regarding it is increasingly complicated, said Erica Levine Powers, a law professor at the University of Albany.

Powers, who is the moderator for the panel and editor of Beyond the Fracking Wars, said neither the session nor the book — which will be released this spring — is pro- or anti-fracking.  “We will explain, and the book explains, what the technology is, the regulatory background, and the concerns of those who care about the environmental constraints,” said Powers.

Powers explained that parts of Ohio, Pennsylvania, New York and West Virginia sit atop the Marcellus Shale, which is a natural gas deposit that has attracted gas companies that wish to drill.  As Powers further explained, gas companies pump huge amounts of water, which is mixed with chemicals, into the shale at high pressure.  This causes the shale around the well to fracture and the natural gas is then able to flow. “People refer to fracking as a shorthand for everything that happens in the lifecycle of the well,” Powers added.

Because Texas has a long history with the oil industry, it is surprising that the potential for gas drilling did not appear in the Dallas-Fort Worth Metroplex area until 15 years ago, Welch said.  “You would think there would be a lot of case law as to how cities can regulate gas drilling, but there was almost [none] in Texas on point at that time,” he said.

The impact on the surrounding environment and on the health of people living near wells are two of the concerns associated with gas drilling.  Other matters include around-the-clock operation, safety, noise, lights and the overall strain on a municipality.

“Sometimes you could have hundreds of 20-year-old men working on gas wells in a community,” Welch said. “In some instances, it creates all kinds of issues from alcohol, prostitution, to there not being enough restaurants, to even criminal activity. This could create a huge strain on resources and it causes a lot of emotions in communities.”

The biggest issue for the Dallas-Fort Worth Metroplex, according to Welch, has centered on the proximity of gas drilling to people’s homes.  Opponents of fracking believe the process contaminates the soil and water, and poses air quality concerns. Some fear the chemicals used in the process can cause cancer.

The Section of State and Local Government Law will host the session, “Beyond the Fracking Wars,” on Thursday, Feb. 7.

Learn More About:  Environmental LawMidyear Meeting 2013