City continues to hash out gas code

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Several Denton City Council members continued to push on the city staff for information and changes to the rewrites of the city’s natural gas development rules, even as the effort goes to Planning and Zoning tonight.

Darren Groth, head of the city’s gas well inspection division, told the council during a work session Tuesday that work was continuing.

“You can watch for more rewrites from Aaron [Leal, deputy city attorney],” Groth said.

Council members Kevin Roden and Jim Engelbrecht questioned the latest rewrites, saying they seemed arbitrary and left out some protected uses. Engelbrecht told the staff he felt the city needed to give some consideration to protecting places where people gather in large numbers.

Roden was concerned, in particular, that preschools and college dormitories appeared to have been left out as a protected use.

Cities have the authority to designate setbacks — in this case, the distance between natural gas production equipment and a home, school or other site — in order to limit impacts.

Roden asked the council whether it would consider greater setback distances and other refinements to that part of the ordinance, which was changed in 2010, because area cities continue to increase setbacks.

Groth agreed to create another comparison chart for the council.

In this week’s agenda packet, the council received other comparison charts it sought.

Council member James King told the staff to increase the insurance requirements to the level employers must have for workplaces. That way, if there was an accident or incident that affected both workers and the public, “it would provide more coverage for employees and that would not infringe on what was available to the public,” King said.

Two other charts compared how Denton’s rewrites, so far, stacked up against current ordinances in Arlington, Flower Mound, Fort Worth, Grand Prairie and Southlake. One chart included rewrites that were suggested either in a minority report from the city’s natural gas drilling task force or from the Denton Stakeholders Drilling Advisory Group, or DAG.

In the chart comparing Denton’s rules to area cities overall, Denton listed rules when all the other cities had similar provisions — an alignment that occurred only a few times. In about half the issues on the chart, when only two cities had ventured to write a rule, Denton made little to no change. Also, in about a dozen issues, where one city has tried a new rule, Denton didn’t.

The chart of the minority report and DAG suggestions showed a community desire for rules that have yet to be tackled in other cities. But that chart also showed no new rules from Denton.

However, the city staff continues to report to the council that those suggestions will be considered in the future.

Tonight, a procedure for operators to claim vested rights — the ability to drill and produce gas under the city’s old rules — is poised to get out ahead of the rest of the rewrites. That revised ordinance will get a public hearing at the Planning and Zoning Commission meeting today, separate from a public hearing on the rest of the rewrites.

The ordinance lists specific criteria for the claim, provides for the city manager to make the determination and provides for appeal of that determination in the courts.

During the council work session, Roden asked for the second time to have a chart or listing of areas in the city where such claims could be made.

Groth told him that could vary widely, from an accounting of 5-acre pad sites to a description of large parcels, of hundreds of acres, where many wells could go anywhere.

City documents show the Denton City Council could consider yet another extension on the moratorium for new drilling and production permits on Dec. 18. The council first called for a 120-day moratorium in February after the city staff told the council they needed four months to finish the rewrites. The moratorium was extended for another 120 days in June, and again for 75 days in October.

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

IF YOU GO

•  What: public hearing on natural gas development rules

•  When: 6:30 p.m. today

•  Where: Council Chambers, Denton City Hall, 215 E. McKinney St.


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