Denton will consider a variety of new air quality regulations as part of an overhaul of the city's gas drilling and production ordinance, a task force decided Monday.
The city's official gas drilling task force voted to send a list of possible new regulations through a legal and scientific review, including requirements for more air monitoring and pollution-control devices and a ban on open flaring. The City Council ultimately must approve any new regulations.
The meeting Monday was the first of a series of task force meetings scheduled through March to consider various aspects of the industry's regulation. The next meeting, on Jan. 23, will continue the discussion of air quality and could also address water-related issues.
Progress seemed fleeting for most of the meeting, as the panel's five voting members clashed over how to word their recommendations. City staffers repeatedly asked task force members to focus on general concepts and leave the code-writing to them, but that didn't stop several extended discussions on how the panel should word its recommendations.
"Words do matter," said Ed Ireland, executive director of the industry-funded Barnett Shale Energy Education Council, who objected to multiple regulations he said could expose the city to legal challenges. "If we're just supposed to rubber-stamp a bunch of words and see what comes back, it seems we're wasting time."
City planning director Mark Cunningham said the task force is there to help city staffers evaluate possible regulations to send to legal and scientific consultants for review.
If the items pass those reviews, they'll come back to the task force for more deliberation before heading to the Planning and Zoning Commission and City Council for public hearings and votes.
The task force includes three citizen representatives and two industry representatives with voting power. Darren Groth, the city's gas well administrator, is serving as chairman but doesn't vote.
Members generally agreed that the industry should use best practices to reduce air pollution, even if they differed on the details. Ireland consistently opposed blanket regulations, such as a complete ban on flaring, saying they ignored nuances and could lead to unintended consequences.
City officials had asked the Denton Stakeholder Drilling Advisory Group, or DAG, a separate panel led by a University of North Texas professor, to offer specific code recommendations before the official task force started its work. Ironically, those recommendations proved the biggest stumbling blocks for the task force because of their specificity.
The task force passed three DAG recommendations before tabling the rest to focus on their own more-general recommendations.
The meeting opened with task force members differing over how much gas drilling contributes to Denton County's air quality problems. Denton is part of the Environmental Protection Agency's Dallas-Fort Worth "nonattainment area," because it fails to meet federal ozone standards.
Task force member Vicki Oppenheim of Denton-based Green Leaf Environmental Planning cited studies linking industry operations to increased air emissions and youth asthma rates in Denton County.
Ireland said readings at permanent air monitors across the Barnett Shale region have shown little cause for concern.
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