City of Denton sues over wells

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Al Key/DRC
A drilling rig looms over a neighborhood at the end of Shagbark Lane in Denton on Monday.

The city of Denton filed suit Friday against EagleRidge Operating LLC and EagleRidge Energy LLC, claiming that two wells they are drilling near Bonnie Brae Street and Vintage Boulevard violate city ordinances.

District Judge L. Dee Shipman denied the city’s request for a temporary restraining order Friday, which would have stopped work on the wells as the matter was heard in court.

A hearing for a temporary injunction, which could effectively do the same thing, is scheduled for 9:30 a.m. Oct. 30. Ultimately, the city is seeking a permanent injunction against the wells, in part because they are within 1,200 feet of homes.

Mark Grawe, executive vice president of EagleRidge Energy, declined to comment on the case, citing the pending action.

Dallas attorney Terry Morgan, who has been retained by the city for the case, said that the city will bring witnesses to the hearing for the temporary injunction. He then declined to comment further.

Should a district judge grant a temporary injunction, that injunction can be appealed to the Second Court of Appeals.

When EagleRidge acquired the leases in that area, the company acquired an existing gas well that the city’s planning department had approved in 2002, according to court documents. But the city maintains that EagleRidge is working on two other gas wells — Bonnie Brae 2H and 1H — in that area that are new wells, according to court documents.

The city claims that EagleRidge does not have the approved site plan and accompanying permits required for those wells by city ordinance.

The city also claims that the two new wells are located well within 1,200 feet of homes, which violates the city’s new rules for gas well development.

In previous letters to the city, obtained by the Denton Record-Chronicle in an open records request, EagleRidge has maintained that its property rights are vested with the leases that it has acquired. The company has generally maintained that the city’s new rules for gas development do not apply where it has existing operations.

Currently, EagleRidge is fracking old gas wells beside Apogee Stadium, which were drilled before the city adopted rules that increased the setbacks between production sites and “protected uses” — essentially places where people live, work or gather — to 1,200 feet.

Last week during a Denton City Council meeting, the council pulled from the consent agenda an item that would have granted EagleRidge permission to run two water lines across city property, near Fire Station No. 7, to the Bonnie Brae well sites.

Mayor Pro Tem Pete Kamp asked the city staff whether they had information on the wells that the company was supplying. When an answer was not forthcoming, the council tabled the item.

In the application for access to city land, EagleRidge identifies the drill sites needing water as “new wells.”

Records with the Texas Railroad Commission also identify Bonnie Brae 1H and 2H as new wells approved by that agency in September, according to court documents.

Residents in the subdivisions near Bonnie Brae and Vintage have been complaining to the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality and city inspectors about fumes, lights and noise since the drilling rigs went up last month.

One resident from the subdivisions there, Sandy Mattox, said she attended a recent neighborhood meeting organized by the city and EagleRidge.

Mattox said she expected a come-and-go-type meeting to get her questions answered, but when she arrived, the chairs in the room were arranged in a circle. One resident whose home is among those closest to the drill site wanted to know what the company’s plans were if something happened.

“We never really got a clear answer,” Mattox said, adding that council member Jim Engelbrecht eventually asked that the company clarify how it would notify the neighborhood if there was trouble.

In April, EagleRidge lost control of a well near Denton Enterprise Airport. Workers evacuated the pad site while they waited for well-control specialists to arrive. But they did not alert the city to the emergency — which saw the evacuation of several homes in the area along with the re-routing of operations at the airport — for several hours.

In 2012, an EagleRidge employee was indicted on felony illegal dumping, after city employees alleged he was pumping wastewater from a drill site into a nearby creek in September 2011. The district attorney’s office later dropped the charges, but the company agreed to clean up the area and faced enforcement action from the Texas Railroad Commission in connection with the incident.

Three EagleRidge well sites were among the 10 well sites that failed city inspections in 2012.

EagleRidge has yet to pay its annual city inspection fees for 2013. According to city documents, $50,150 has been due and payable since March. Inspection results for 2013 were not immediately available Monday.

PEGGY HEINKEL-WOLFE can be reached at 940-566-6881 and via Twitter at @phwolfeDRC.

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