The race is on.
News that federal oil and gas leases under Lewisville Lake have been scheduled for auction caught many local officials by surprise. But they are wasting little time in deciding their preliminary position on the matter.
Highland Village city leaders voted unanimously Tuesday night to protest the auction. Denton Mayor Chris Watts has asked that the matter be placed on the City Council’s agenda next Tuesday.
“It’s my understanding there’s little time to decide, should the council want to protest,” Watts said.
The U.S. Bureau of Land Management in New Mexico is in charge of the auction scheduled for April 20 in Santa Fe. The deadline for individuals and groups to formally protest the auction is Thursday, Feb. 18.
Environmental groups wrote a letter of protest Tuesday and asked for the sale to be delayed, citing, in part, a lack of public notice.
Highland Village City Manager Mike Leavitt told city leaders he scrambled to gather information about the auction after reading about it in local newspapers. He learned that even though some of the leases are in Highland Village, the bureau doesn’t have to formally notify the city of the auction.
In addition, federal officials already determined the leases would not have a significant environmental impact on the area, he said. Some property owners in Hickory Creek leased their mineral rights years ago and gas wells are already in production.
For example, one well site is next to Sycamore Bend Park, a town park on land leased from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.
When the Highland Village City Council voted to protest the auction, it cited concerns for the integrity of the Lewisville Lake Dam and the region’s drinking water.
Members also voted to send a copy of the letter to the corps, the sole owner of the minerals up for auction. They authorized Mayor Charlotte Wilcox to draft a letter of protest that would include minutes from the meeting, which included extensive public comment and council deliberations.
Although Highland Village may be the first to protest, Wilcox said she expected others to follow.
Lewisville Lake was built by the corps for flood control in the Trinity River basin. But the lake also supplies drinking water to millions of North Texans, including residents in Denton, Dallas, Highland Village and other cities that partner with the Upper Trinity Regional Water District.
Highland Village council members and residents expressed concerns during the meeting that drilling and fracking close to the lake could pose a risk to the public water supply. Others expressed concerns about the possibility of induced earthquakes so close to the dam.
Even before last spring’s rains, the Lewisville Lake Dam was listed by the corps as the eighth-most hazardous in the country. Recent rains have made it worse, the corps says.
State officials are studying the recent swarm of North Texas earthquakes. Until oil and gas operators began fracking in the Barnett Shale, North Texas saw few earthquakes.
Scientists have linked some earthquakes to fluid injection, including fracking waste disposal wells.
But regulators at the Texas Railroad Commission, including the agency’s staff seismologist, remain skeptical that fracking causes earthquakes.
One Highland Village council member said he believed an operator planned to use existing well sites in Hickory Creek to develop the area further. Another council member said he was concerned about city officials pressing the issue much further without hearing from the oil and gas industry.
Council members wanted more information about the potential financial impact of protesting the auction, should they continue to press the matter, they said.
If drilled, the gas wells would be the first inside the Highland Village city limits.
Norwood Land Services of Fort Worth nominated the parcels under Lewisville Lake for auction, according to federal records. Norwood officials declined to answer any questions about the nomination Wednesday afternoon, citing client confidentiality.
State regulations enforced by the railroad commission protect drinking water, according to industry officials and state regulators. A driller must set steel pipe in cement at least 200 feet deeper than the groundwater levels to prevent any contamination of the water table.
Operating rules also reduce the risk of spills that could affect shallow groundwater and surface water supplies, such as rivers and lakes.
In addition, the Bureau of Land Management recently proposed new rules for fracking on public lands.
The additional review seeks to protect drinking water supplies. If the rules go into effect, operators must disclose the chemicals used in their fracking fluids.
PEGGY HEINKEL-WOLFE can be reached at 940-566-6881 and via Twitter at @phwolfeDRC.
In The Know
See the leases that Fort Worth-based Norwood Land Services nominated for the April 20 auction by the Bureau of Land Management online at http://1.usa.gov/20Mha5X.