The committee considered two proposals Thursday by Pioneer Natural Resources for exceptions to requirements for landscaping and fencing around drilling rigs being added within city limits. In a 5-0 vote, committee members approved requests to forgo landscaping requirements...
The first meeting of Midland's Oil and Gas Advisory Committee (OGAC) - the group created earlier this year to ensure that oil and real estate development in our city proceeds without undue burden on each other - yielded disappointing but not unexpected results. If yesterday's meeting is a predictor of things to come, we'll see a steady stream of oil companies appearing to get exemptions from various provisions of the city's drilling ordinance, and we'll see those exceptions routinely granted.
The quote above is from the Midland Reporter Telegram's meeting coverage, and the first sentence of that article spoke to the Committee's desire to "stay in front of development." But its approval of the landscape exception flies in the face of that expressed intent.
The landscaping requirement in the City's drilling ordinance is intended to provide a cosmetic shield around a well site. Some might argue that planting trees around a site where there's not yet any real estate development is unnecessary, but that tends to overlook the fact that it takes several years for trees to grow enough to provide the effective shielding anticipated by the ordinance. Waiting until real estate development reaches the well site before requiring the landscape just delays the effectiveness of that provision...and certainly isn't a good example for staying "in front of development."
The MRT also reported that the Committee's chair, Richard Dunham*, said that developers of future real estate in the area could approach the oil operator and "work out an agreement for what landscaping is needed." In my opinion, that's a naive approach, and fails to recognize two things. First, at that point the real estate developer has no leverage to negotiate with the oil operator. Second, there's some anecdotal evidence that oil operators are ignoring such agreements already, and that the city is not taking steps to enforce them.
Exhibit "A" is a well that was drilled by Patriot Resources on Midland Country Club's property just to the east of Woodland Park. In a City Council meeting in February, 2009, that well was approved with the express requirement of a dirt berm AND the planting of trees around the berm. Almost two years later, not a single tree has been planted, as far as I can tell without trespassing on the property. The photo at right was taken this morning from "A" Street; click it to see a larger version.
I hate to extrapolate too much from a single action item from the first meeting, but it's difficult to ignore the precedent that's been set. I've been concerned from the start that the OGAC would a rubber-stamp for oil development within the city limits, and yesterday's action did little to dispel that concern.
[Update (11/9/10)] I've been notified by the city's Oil & Gas Compliance Officer that the city is aware of the non-compliance of the above-mentioned well and is working with the operator to bring it into compliance. See this update for details.
*Disclosure: Richard is both a friend and a client. I've already expressed these concerns to him via email. I appreciate the difficulty of the task set before the members of the OGAC, but I think it's important to let the committee know how "regular folks" feel about these issues.