Natural gas development is a cornerstone of the North Texas economy

Bernard Weinstein, an economist and associate director of SMU's Maguire Energy Institute, writes about the U.S. reducing its oil imports by developing indigenous energy resources, in particular natural gas that's locked in shale formations.

By Bernard Weinstein
Special to The Fort Worth Star-Telegram

Every great drama needs a home -- some physical centerpiece around which the trials and tribulations of the cast of characters revolve. In Gone with the Wind, it was the great plantation Tara. Southfork Ranch played the part in the iconic soap opera Dallas. For the escalating debate surrounding the Barnett Shale development, it appears that Southlake may be that home.

Last Wednesday at 1:40 a.m., after more than four hours of discussion, the Southlake City Council voted 5-2 to approve the city's first gas well site. Today, the council will consider an application for a second drill site. But since the applicant's request was turned down by the planning commission, a super majority of six votes will be required for approval.

Southlake -- which has numerous gas well permit applications in process and significant tracts under lease, including some by schools and churches -- recently issued a temporary moratorium on new permits. Given the amount of lease activity already in progress, this ban shouldn't be applied retroactively.

What's more, Southlake's decisions regarding these and future applications could set the tone for drilling support across North Texas. With such high stakes, it's important that local leaders focus on facts rather than headline-grabbing hype.

A solid spectrum of evidence demonstrates that the stage is set for continued natural gas development based on proven operations, not more political theater. The Environmental Defense Fund, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the 93,000 wells across Texas all point to a far less salacious story than the one being told by anti-drilling activists and Hollywood propagandists -- namely that hydraulic fracturing is environmentally safe.

No instances of groundwater contamination from fracking have been recorded in Texas or anywhere in the United States.

While environmental activists and some journalists have been quick to magnify the supposed dangers from hydraulic fracturing, the relatively few accidents in the industry have been linked to surface spills or well failures, not problems caused by the fracking process itself, which occurs more than a mile beneath the ground. As an added precaution, the companies interested in investing in Southlake's shale resources have included a significant setback for their sites from residences in addition to adopting other project specifications that go beyond the basic standards.

For nearly a quarter century, natural gas development has been a cornerstone of the Texas economy by directly and indirectly supporting nearly 1.3 million jobs across the state. The gas industry also pours billions into state and local budgets every year, helping fund the schools, hospitals and highway infrastructures in our communities.

While no state is thriving in the wake of the Great Recession, natural gas development has helped the North Texas regional economy remain resilient. Last year, the Barnett Shale passed a milestone of 8 trillion cubic feet pulled from the ground, making it the top producing gas field in the nation.

Texas is known for its positive business climate. Erecting roadblocks to continued investment in energy or other endeavors will send the wrong message to potential investors and retard our economic development.

# # #