Council works on drilling ordinance

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by A.C. Hall

The White Settlement City Council held a special meeting on Tuesday to give input on the new drilling ordinance that’s being prepared for the City.  In August, council passed a 90 day moratorium on accepting drilling applications to give them time to study data recently received from Chesapeake and to work on making changes to their drilling ordinance.

The attorney that is assisting the City with this project was on hand Tuesday to get input from council on some key issues.  One such issue is water usage.  In the current drilling ordinance the city allows local water to be used for drilling but not for fracking.  This is done in part because the city doesn’t have the water capacity to handle the high demands of fracking, leaving the company doing the drilling to bring in water from elsewhere.

Water restrictions aren’t yet present in the new drilling ordinance, and council member Steve Ott shared some thoughts on how he’d like them to look.  Ott spoke about waterless fracking, an emerging technique that uses alternatives like propane instead of the traditional method of shooting huge amounts of water and chemicals down into the well.  The possibility of making this a method companies need to at least consider when drilling in White Settlement was forefront at Ott’s comments.

“I would say use waterless fracking unless it’s impossible,” Ott said.

An idea discussed was a feasibility study that would need to be done by the drilling company when applying for a permit to see if waterless fracking is an economically viable option for them.  As this discussion continued, Ott made it clear that he’s far more concerned about water conservation than he is about the profits and economic feasibility of drilling companies.

“I don’t care about Chesapeake; I don’t care how much money they make.  I care about water,” Ott said.  “We’re running out of water in this state.  Period.  No doubt about it.  And if they keep using all this water we’re going to run out a lot more.  So if using propane to frack those wells is feasible, whether it’s economically feasible to them or not, is immaterial to me.”

Ott received input on this matter, being told by the two attorneys present that forcing Chesapeake to use waterless fracking could have legal ramifications, especially if they’re drilling on private land.  The possibility of Chesapeake simply not drilling in White Settlement if the cost of waterless fracking is too great was also mentioned.  This would mean a loss of revenue for the City.

Mayor Jerry Burns weighed in on the conversation as he spoke about finding a middle ground with the idea that keeps the city out of court while still pushing local drillers towards waterless fracking.

Moving back to the proposed feasibility studies, Ott suggested forcing drilling companies to hire an outside third party to do the studies.  City Attorney Warren Spencer stated that a criteria would need to be established that decides what is or isn’t feasible.  The example he gave was that if waterless fracking costs less than ten percent more than traditional fracking, the drilling company would have to use the waterless method.

The new drilling ordinance was still in unfinished draft form, with council members receiving notes from several different sources that have weighed in on the document.  A few of the issues that were discussed are the possibility of getting the drilling company to indemnify, or take legal responsibility for, the city’s well inspector, time limits on how long frack ponds can be kept, bad faith practices that might be abused in order to keep leases from lapsing, and what water restrictions to put into the document.  Adding in guidelines by which the city can get certain statistics and information from the drilling company was also discussed, as this has been a difficult task in the past.

The overall unfinished nature of the document had council member Gene Hatcher asking if the city might be better off just making a few basic changes to the old ordinance instead of trying a complete overhaul.  City Manager Linda Ryan urged council to give the overhaul a little more time, saying a lot of hours and effort have gone into it.  Both the City Attorney and the attorney assisting in this process agreed that they have good direction from the council now and that they should be able to get the new draft completed in a timely manner.

CITY HOLIDAY EVENTS                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                            

  Earlier in the meeting, City Manager Linda Ryan looked for direction from the council on the city held holiday events.  This was brought up several months ago by Economic Development Director Jim Ryan, who spoke about Hawaiian Falls running the upcoming Settler’s Day Festival and the possibility of letting Hawaiian Falls handle future city holiday events.

Council appeared to support scaling back city holiday events at that time, and they took the same stance again on Tuesday.  Linda Ryan stated that the city usually spends between $10,000 and $12,000 on the Christmas event alone.  Hawaiian Falls will hold a Christmas event each weekend in December, something that was mentioned as a possible replacement or alternative to holding a city funded Christmas event.

The idea most on the council appeared to support was removing any outdoor festivities related to the City’s Christmas event, instead just doing the tree lighting and then having Santa, cookies, and punch.

“I think you’re right, just scale it down,” council member Mike Arnold said.

The Easter event was also discussed, as it’s another big holiday event that can cost over $10,000.  While no one was certain what Hawaiian Falls was planning on doing for that holiday, the suggestion to scale back the city celebration was again made.  No exact details were determined on that matter, however.

Continuing talks about Christmas time, council member Elzie Clements mentioned the state of decorations around the City.

“Our city desperately needs some new Christmas decorations.  Our Christmas decorations; it’s kind of shabby out there, it’s kind of embarrassing,” Clements said.

He suggested getting new decorations little by little each year to help this matter.  Most on the council agreed, exchanging ideas on new decorations that could be put up around the city.  With the deadline to order these types of decorations already passed, city staff advised council that it wouldn’t be until next year that they could start purchasing new decorations.

Council member Danny Anderson put forth an idea that could help the city look better for the holidays, saying a competition should be held for the best decorated business in the city.  He suggested this as a companion competition to the best holiday yard competition the city already holds.  EDC Director Jim Ryan suggested getting the Chamber of Commerce involved to help make this happen.