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Council puts brakes on oil and gas testing

The Malakoff News of Malakoff, Texas

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The News Correspondent MALAKOFF-The Malakoff City Council tabled any action to allow a Houston oil and gas company and its contractors to use city roads and rights of way to perform seismic testing for minerals.

The request came during the council's monthly meeting, Monday. Kerry Newman, a Louisiana-based seismic project manager who is a contractor for Doughtie Exploration, an independent energy company based in Sugar Land (near Houston), asked council members for city permission to use roads and rights of way inside Malakoff to set up equipment at 104 points inside the city that would generate seismic activity, and which would be monitored by equipment set up outside the city limits. The result would be a snapshot of sorts depicting underground deposits of oil and gas. The City ofTrinidad approved similar testing last year, Newman added.

Active work to place the equipment inside Malakoff would encompass about half or three-quarters of a day, said Bill Caver, project manager for Exploration Geophysics Inc. of Midland, a Doughtie contractor that collects seismic data. There would be traffic snafus associated with the work that would require traffic management, Caver said. He added that the private companies could use city police, and pay police officers either directly or indirectly through city coffers.

The area affected by the testing would encompass about 17 square miles in and around Malakoff, Newman said. Much of the focus is on areas west of Malakoff, and also southwest of town on property owned by NRG, another energy company that is the successor of Houston Power and Light, the company that originally accumulated the land in the 1980s in hopes of building a power plant.

Malakoff City Administrator Ann Barker said that people associated with the project have been visiting homes in the area of Walker, Cole, Lincoln and Cherry streets, along with Lovers Lane, to offer money for the seismic testing. Newman said the oil and gas explorers are offering the money as a goodwill gesture for any inconvenience the testing would cause. Newman said the testing would at times generate loud noises. In general, people are offered $25 minimum, Newman said, and sometimes much more depending on acreage. "We're just trying to be good neighbors," Newman said.

Barker also said that some Malakoff citizens have been offered paperwork to sign in relation to mineral and surface rights, and on about four occasions the Malakoff Police Dept. has been summoned because the worker would not leave when asked. Barker also said the documents gave the oil and gas companies up to two years to enter the property for the testing. Barker also added that while the city requires solicitors to get permits from city hall, that no one associated with the oil and gas exploration has done so.

Newman said that the companies were not trying to lease or buy mineral or surface rights, but will instead "Just look, then they decide whether to come back and offer." Costs for testing alone can rise to nearly $2 million before drilling proceeds, Newman added.

Other concerns raised included future tracking, or hydraulic fracturing techniques to displace oil for easier extraction. Newman countered that the company, if it desired to pursue the minerals, would drill straight wells and not frack.

Citing tracking concerns, City Council member Jerrilyn Tarver made a motion to deny the companies access to city streets and rights of way. The motion died for a lack of second.

Mayor Pro Tem Tim Trimble asked Newman about benefits to the city for allowing the exploration. Newman said that about 65 employees would be in Malakoff working on the project and spending money in the local economy, and that if drilling proceeded, tax money would be generated for the city.

In the end, Trimble, also citing tracking concerns, lack of public comment and insufficient information related to the exploration activities, made a motion to table any action, which was passed by council. Trimble said the city could call a special meeting in the near future to further address the issue.

Council members also heard from Toni Johnson, who is with the Henderson County Black Rodeo Association. Johnson was seeking support for the second-annual Martin Luther King Jr. Parade and Solidarity March, scheduled Saturday, Jan. 17 in Athens. Johnson requested a city official and police representative, including a police car, to represent Malakoff during the event. No action was taken on the issue, but Malakoff police Lt. Floyd Thomas and Mayor Delois Pagitt expressed misgivings about the event, based on literature passed out by Johnson that used a photograph of people with hands up against a blazing sky, presumably protestors in Ferguson, Mo.

Johnson reassured the council that the parade and march would be peaceful, and would not incorporate protestors' "Hands up, Don't Shoot" and "I Can't Breathe" themes. "We're just trying to get rid of negative connotations (about the picture in general)," Johnson said. "It just needs to stop."

Council members did approve one action item during the meeting. Members adopted a proclamation declaring this month (January) as Fair Housing Month. That proclamation is a federal civil rights requirement for the city to obtain federal money tunneled through a $275,000 state block grant that would allow the city to build a mechanical bar screen at the city's sewer plant. The bar screen will chew up solids during the water treatment process, according to Ken Coignet with Public Management Inc.

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Original Publication Date: January 16, 2015

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