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Houston's a Gas

Three Houston parks are targeted for natural gas exploration. Herman Brown Park and Maxey Park are on a west-east axis, about two miles apart, while larger Brock Park is five miles north on the other side of Beaumont Highway. Brock Park (pictured) has an 18-hole golf course. Houston Parks and Recreation was created by city ordinance in 1916. The department manages and maintains 350 parks and over 200 green spaces.

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You know cities are really strapped for cash when they start ''exploring'' for additional sources of revenue underground.

''We think there's an opportunity to secure some funding we wouldn't normally have access to, and we think it can be done in an environmentally and community-sensitive way,'' is what Andy Icken, the chief development officer for Houston, told the Houston Chronicle.

What's he talking about? The Houston City Council gave its O.K. on Sept. 1, 2010 to allow Southern Star Exploration to search for natural gas beneath three of the city's parks (Herman Brown, Brock and Maxey), plus under a public works facility. The contract the city has with Southern Star is a $200,000 three-year lease

If there is enough natural gas reserves under the park lands, drilling would begin on nearby non-park land and follow an underground, horizontal route to the parks.

A similar proposal in the 1970s to lease mineral rights and drill in Memorial Park from a maintenance yard was dropped because of strong community opposition.

Houston Mayor Annise Parker believes the new deal will be ''a great benefit for the city.'' If the company does extract gas, the city gets a 25 percent royalty that must be reinvested into the park where it was found. The mayor notes there are a number of drilling operations in the center of Fort Worth, Texas.

A local environmental group, Air Alliance Houston, objected to the lack of debate on the gas exploration. One of the group's environmental concerns is the possibility of compromising (poisoning) some of the city's water supply. The city said drilling would not harm the water supply because reservoirs are not near the parks. The city didn't mention any possible contamination of ground water. Those residing near the drilling will no doubt have a number of concerns.

Icken told the local media he didn't expect Southern Star to use ''hydraulic fracturing.'' The technique, which has been around for 60 years, uses internal fluid pressure to open fractures. A newer take on that technology is high-volume horizontal ''slick water fracturing.'' Icken said he expected the drilling company to spend about a year doing ''seismic work'' to determine how much natural gas lies under the parks.

Jonathan Day told the Houston Chronicle the city parks are ''desperately underfunded.'' He added, ''I don't think there's any downside to this.'' Day was the Houston city attorney from 1974 through 1976. He recently retired as co-chair of the Andrews Kurth law firm and is a member on the executive board of Scenic Houston.

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October 15, 2019, 5:29 am PDT

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