Fracking dispute erupts at City Hall

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David Minton/DRC
The EagleRidge Energy "Denton Bonnie" gas well site as seen from the adjacent neighborhood early Wednesday morning, November 13, 2013, in Denton,

Residents take to podium again to call for end to gas drilling

Angry residents filled the seats and lined the walls at City Hall on Tuesday night, calling again for a drilling moratorium and for EagleRidge Energy’s old permit to be revoked.

Meanwhile, the City Council made two moves that stirred the crowd even more. First, they announced a special called meeting for 5:30 p.m. Friday to take up the natural gas drilling operator’s request for access to city property to run water lines for wells that will be hydraulically fractured. Then the council agreed to reconsider last week’s vote that denied a developer greater density because it would have brought more homes close to current and future wells.

Ed Soph, a music professor and longtime advocate for the local environment, told the council that there was no comparison between the current battle and past struggles, which got state-of-the-art scrubbers on the kilns at Acme Brick and prevented a lead smelter from being built at United Copper.

“This is coming in at a scale that dwarfs earlier challenges,” Soph said. “It is an environmental, public health and economic disaster.”

But in her first time to the podium, speaker Kelly Higgins, who is five months pregnant with her second child, made it personal. She said she, her husband and her 2-year-old have suffered chronic headaches, coughing and raw, irritated sinuses since the rigs came to their neighborhood a month ago.

She is terrified for her unborn child, she said.

“I have two rigs operating within 1,000 feet of my home. There is no escaping the harmful chemicals,” Higgins said of the fracking yet to come. “Meanwhile, the city is busy being confused. Or too scared to enforce the ordinance.”

Adam Briggle of the Denton Drilling Advisory Group told the City Council that by his reading of the original permit from 2003, EagleRidge Energy was already in violation. He said the city has enough evidence from resident complaints to levy the fine, which at $2,000 per day could total as much as $150,000.

“Fine them and then revoke the permit,” Briggle said.

A dispute between the city and EagleRidge erupted a month ago when the city sued the company, claiming that it was drilling in violation of city ordinances in the neighborhood near Vintage Boulevard and Bonnie Brae Street. EagleRidge has stated in letters to the city that its rights to develop the gas were vested under the original permits. A district judge appeared to side with EagleRidge by refusing to grant the city a temporary injunction to stop the drilling, and the city subsequently dropped the lawsuit.

About half the residents, many from the Vintage area neighborhoods, spoke up during the citizens’ agenda at the beginning of the meeting, calling for a moratorium.

Some residents showed video — including FLIR video that shows emissions invisible to the naked eye — from production sites around the city that have been published on the Internet. Some video was taken by residents, and some was taken by Calvin Tillman, the former mayor of Dish, through a group he helped found, ShaleTest.

University of North Texas student Angie Halliday played video of fracking near Apogee Stadium and said many students don’t feel safe attending events at Apogee because of the proximity. She asked where the city’s protection was for the students living in the athletic village.

The other half of the residents stayed to protest the council’s reconsideration motion. Last week, a tie vote denied a zoning change that would have allowed developer Bob Shelton to build homes close to a well site on Ryan Road that also has vested interests elsewhere on the 75-acre property.

Although the proposed Ryan Road neighborhood is on the other side of the city, many residents from the Vintage neighborhood said they felt they needed to speak up for the future residents of that neighborhood, since the circumstances were similar.

But the council agreed to consider the matter again, after Shelton pledged to work with the city to work on disclosure, so that people who bought homes in the neighborhood would know that they were buying close to gas well sites that could be drilled and fracked again.

Mayor Mark Burroughs, who was absent from that meeting, said that it was worth it for the city to try to get better disclosure for property owners.

But resident Tara Linn Hunter told the council that disclosure wouldn’t solve the root of the problem, which is continuing to allow a hodgepodge of industrial sites close to homes. Tuesday wasn’t Hunter’s first time in front of the council, either. She helped distribute “Don’t Frack With Denton” stickers that many residents were wearing at the meeting.

“I’ve seen you do this, listen to citizens, and then dismissively wash your hands of it, saying it’s a zoning issue,” Hunter said. “It’s a human rights issue. I don’t know how we can be more clear.”

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



Also Tuesday, the Denton City Council:

• Appointed additional residents to a citizen bond advisory committee for a planned November 2014 election.

• Agreed to refinance capital expenditures for utilities and other government activities with $49.5 million in certificates of obligation.

• Awarded a contract for concrete fence at the Cooper Creek Substation to Walsh’s Hawk Construction Co. for $354,971 and for water and wastewater improvements to Wright Construction Co. for $2.5 million.

• Awarded a three-year janitorial services contract to Oriental Building Services for $1.7 million.

• Amended a contract with Power Engineers for transmission line design for another $820,492, to a new total of $2.4 million.

• Authorized purchase of upgraded components for Denton Municipal Electric substations from Keasler Sales for $175,370.

• Approved a special-use permit for DME to build an electric substation on about 6 acres along East McKinney Street between Mack Drive and Springtree Street.

• Approved an agreement with the Children’s Advocacy Center for Denton County for $119,141 to aid with child abuse cases.

• Authorized $13,000 of in-kind services and supplies for the 25th annual Denton Holiday Lighting Festival and $1,100 for the Coats for Kids Ride.

• Assigned an airport lease with Nebrig Properties to Sykes-Vaughan Investments.

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