Well applications expected to move ahead

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A shale gas company’s applications to drill four wells on the city’s west side are likely to move forward, despite Denton’s moratorium on new natural gas development.

During its meeting tonight, the City Council is expected to extend the moratorium to December, but at the same time consider new language for applications filed before the moratorium took effect.

In other words, Eagleridge Operating should be able to go ahead with its plans to drill. The company has applications pending for four well sites on land between Interstate 35 and the Denton Airport owned by Rayzor Investments or Westpark Group, which is owned by Rayzor Investments. The original applications for the wells were filed in 2010 by Teleo Operating, Eagleridge’s predecessor, but the city staff was not acting on them.

City officials announced Friday that Eagleridge had withdrawn its July 20 request for variances from the moratorium and canceled the public hearing scheduled for tonight.

Speaking on behalf of Eagleridge, Tim Crouch said that the change doesn’t affect the timeline for drilling the new wells — still about six months to 12 months away.

“They’ve been concerned all along that the moratorium would be extended,” Crouch said.

The original moratorium exempted two kinds of applications in its ordinance. The first exemption, spelled out in a single sentence, grandfathered operators that submitted materials prior to the moratorium. The other exemption went for wells that did not require hydraulic fracturing and were to be used to inject or store natural gas. The city recently approved a permit for Atmos Energy to store natural gas at an injection well site in the south side of the city.

The proposed new moratorium ordinance changes that single sentence into two sections, with the first section exempting operators who apply “in sequence,” which could leave room for other operators besides Eagleridge to claim they are exempt.

The proposed new ordinance also authorizes the city manager to grant variances to the moratorium, with appeals going before the council. The original ordinance left that initial authority with the council.

The city first adopted a moratorium on new gas development in February in order to launch a long-planned overhaul of its natural gas development rules. Residents had been asking the city since 2009 to update the rules.

Until this year, the city made few changes other than increasing setbacks and hiring four inspectors.

Currently, the rules are being reviewed by the city’s legal department and outside legal counsel.

The city plans to post the draft ordinance, currently being reviewed by the legal department and the council in closed sessions, in early October for public comment.

The ordinance would then go to the Planning and Zoning Commission, with public hearings scheduled Oct. 24 and Nov. 14.

The City Council is expected to hold at least one public hearing in December before taking final action.

Although there will be no public hearing on moratorium variances, the public may speak when the council considers the moratorium tonight.

Many residents have already given their opinion on the matter on the city’s interactive website, EngageDenton.com.

Residents voted 47-3 in favor of the moratorium for all applications.

Today, during its regular work session and meeting, the council will also hear another report on a proposed tax-increment finance district in the industrial area on the city’s northwest side, hold the final public hearing on the 2012-13 budget and tax rate, appoint members to the new Council Committee on Citizen Engagement and consider changes to the ordinances to allow more residents to keep chickens.

PEGGY HEINKEL-WOLFE can be reached at 940-566-6881. Her email address is pheinkel-wolfe@dentonrc.com .


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