The Denton City Council’s first public discussion in six months on rewrites to natural gas development rules focused on getting more information, ranging from researching possibilities to more thorough comparisons to rules in other cities.
The discussion Tuesday followed a long executive session — nearly two-and-a-half hours — that included a lengthy legal briefing on the rewrites.
In an interview Wednesday, Mayor Mark Burroughs said that the closed sessions have been providing the council an extensive education on federal, state and local regulations on the oil and gas industry. While federal and state laws have long regulated the industry, local regulations are fairly new — and that leads to a lot of questions, he said.
“That can be a hazard of having attorneys on a governing body,” said Burroughs, who is a practicing attorney. “We tend to get off on rabbit trails.”
The sessions are designed to help the council understand what has been litigated and what puts the city at risk for being sued, he said.
A handful of council members’ comments in the work session that immediately followed the briefing — about 10 people were able to wait an hour for the meeting to open — hinted at where the future discussion may go.
In matters of pre-emption — when state or federal regulations override what the city can do — council member Dalton Gregory asked whether zoning regulations could work, since some cities require a special-use permit for every well.
Similarly, council member Kevin Roden wanted to see whether neighborhoods could be protected from production with an outright prohibition of drilling in certain residential districts.
Burroughs suggested to the council that allowing drilling “by right” in certain zones could be a policy solution, sending a signal to energy companies that those were the areas of town the city preferred for natural gas drilling and production.
On Wednesday, Burroughs said that while zoning rules may express the will of the majority, the rights of the minority, to be able to lease their minerals, creates a problem for the city — which could get sued either way.
Voters in Longmont, Colo., approved a charter amendment Tuesday banning hydraulic fracturing in the city and prohibiting storing waste there.
Voters in two Ohio communities amended their city charters with “environmental bill of rights” to bolster their cities’ positions in protecting the community.
Roden also asked for information on how the city could create incentives for current operators to retrofit equipment, given the poor air quality in Denton County and the Dallas-Fort Worth area.
Council member Jim Engelbrecht looked for more information about how big fires would be managed, saying that planning needed to be more transparent for those who might be directly affected by a fire at a gas well or other production equipment.
Darren Groth, head of the city’s gas well inspection division, said rewrites are continuing as suggestions come in and the city’s outside reviewers provide feedback.
Legal advisors include Terry Morgan of Goins, Underkofler, Crawford & Langdon; Terry Cross of McClure & Cross; and Martin Rochelle and David Klein of Lloyd Gosselink.
Technical advisors include Kenneth Tramm of Modern Geosciences and Don Butler of New Tech Global.
All six were originally named to the city’s gas well task force. Only Butler actually served.
The division has since revised the timeline for review and approval of the rewrites.
The Planning and Zoning Commission has scheduled to continue its public hearing over the rewrites on Nov. 28.
A public hearing in front of the City Council has been rescheduled to Dec. 18.
PEGGY HEINKEL-WOLFE can be reached at 940-566-6881. Her e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org .
IN OTHER ACTION
During its meeting Tuesday, the Denton City Council also:
• Adopted new rules to allow food trucks in the city
• Approved a request by St. Mark’s Catholic Church to amend the plan for land at John Paine and Crawford roads, allowing for the construction of a new church and educational facilities
• Agreed to issue $2.96 million in certificates of obligation to repay the general fund for capital purchases
• Approved the purchase of four ambulances for $636,500, four dump trucks for $534,108 and a utility truck with fluid excavator for $143,114
• Authorized purchase of a 1.96-acre tract along Virginia Circle for $228,652 for the construction of a 69-kilovolt transmission line
• Authorized purchase of two parcels, totaling about 1.31 acres, for $140,000, to widen Bonnie Brae Street and three parcels, totaling about .863 acres, for $123,403, to widen Mayhill Road
• Approved several contracts related to electrical service, including $1.6 million to various entities for transmission fees, $4.7 million to the Lower Colorado River Authority for high-voltage circuit breakers, $1.03 million to G2 Electrical Testing and Consulting for technical services, $564,000 to Black & Veatch for design and engineering services and Fulton Supply and Recycling’s competitive proposal for recycling electrical scrap metals
• Accepted $472,140 grant for emergency sheltering from the Texas Department of Housing and Community Affairs