Petition may require more signatures

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A citizens initiative to ban hydraulic fracturing in the city of Denton may require more signatures than organizers believed, according to Denton city staff.

City Secretary Jennifer Walters said Wednesday that the city’s charter requires enough signatures to equal 25 percent of the votes cast in the last municipal election, and according to her calculations that comes to 596 signatures.

That’s 25 more than organizers thought they needed.

A new local nonprofit, Denton Drilling Awareness Group, has organized the petition drive in response to a failed city ordinance regulating oil and gas production in the city limits. The initiative is itself an ordinance which, if adopted by either the City Council or Denton voters, would make Denton the first major Texas city to ban fracking and the first city in the nation to do so after permits were issued.

Industry officials have questioned whether a ban on hydraulic fracturing would be legally defensible, citing a lack of authority for cities to regulate well completion techniques, of which fracking is one. Moreover, royalty owners lose money when groups protest production.

Both the organizers and the city staff are looking to the May 2013 election to figure out how many signatures are required for a valid petition, but the number of votes counted is not the same as the number of votes cast, Walters said.

Denton County Elections Administrator Frank Phillips said looking at the total number of votes as the measure of votes cast is a common mistake. In May 2013, the city’s election included four council races and a proposition. But not all the voters made choices in all the races.

“That rarely happens,” Phillips said.

The race with the most votes was, by far, the city’s proposition whether to form a gas utility for the industrial park on Denton’s west side. But 104 Denton voters who cast ballots in May 2013 didn’t vote on that proposition, Phillips said.

Hence, the difference in the calculations in the required count for the petition, according to Walters.

Resident Cathy McMullen, a member of Denton DAG, said the group isn’t worried that they might have to come up with 25 more signatures.

“We’re planning on collecting two to three times that amount,” McMullen said.

The petition drive begins tonight at 6:30 with a launch party at Sweetwater Grill and Tavern.

The group has 180 days to collect signatures under the city charter.

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

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