Residents streamed into one of the party rooms Thursday night at Sweetwater Grill and Tavern, lining up to buy T-shirts, make donations and sign a petition to ban hydraulic fracturing in the city limits.
Organizers said they got about 200 signatures, or one-third of what they need to force an initiative in front of the Denton City Council.
A new local nonprofit, Denton Drilling Awareness Group, has organized the petition drive in response to a city ordinance regulating oil and gas production in the city limits. The initiative is itself an ordinance that, 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 — pressure-pumping a chemical and water solution to release gas and oil from shale and other tight rock — would be legally defensible, citing a lack of authority for cities to regulate such techniques. Moreover, royalty owners say they lose money when groups protest production.
Cathy McMullen, a member of Denton DAG, said that the turnout was overwhelming.
“I meant to stay and have a beer, but I just had to go home, I was so emotional,” McMullen said. “To finally see so many people that say, ‘I know how you feel and I’ve got your back,’ it’s such a relief.”
The group is receiving help with the petition drive from Sharon Wilson, a former Denton resident who also works for Earthworks, a national nonprofit environmental advocacy group.
Although McMullen said it wasn’t planned, she was the first to sign the petition because she had been lobbying the city since 2009 for more-stringent regulations.
The group has about six months to gather the 596 required signatures, according to city staff.
Denton resident Maile Bush was there, too, as one of several speakers who addressed the crowd as signing began.
Bush lives in the neighborhoods along Vintage Boulevard and Bonnie Brae Street, which have been at the center of a controversy among the residents, the city and an operator for several months.
“Before last October, I didn’t even know what fracking was,” Bush said. “This is not compatible with neighborhoods.”
Not everyone who came to the launch party was able to sign, McMullen said.
Some of them needed to register to vote first, but organizers were ready for that, she said.
“We’ve got their names and we will go back to them again,” McMullen said.
Because people must sign the petition in front of a person authorized to circulate it, the group has announced more signing events and will be working with businesses that have offered to help, she said.
Dan Garza and his wife, Hatice Salih, who is running at-large for Place 5 on the Denton City Council, have copies of the petition at their shop, Dan’s Meat Market, 2736 N. Elm St., and the new owner of Big Mike’s Coffee Shop, near the University of North Texas, also offered to help, McMullen said.
In addition, the group has about 30 people who will canvass the Vintage, Bonnie Brae, Denia and Southridge neighborhoods in the coming weeks. When they are done, another 20 people will be dispatched to other areas of the city, McMullen said.
“We want to make sure that everyone who wants to sign the petition gets to,” she said.
Today, residents can look for Adam Briggle, Denton DAG member, at Fuzzy’s Taco Shop, 115 Industrial St., between 2 and 5 p.m. On Sunday, the Denton Unitarian Universalist Church, 1111 Cordell St., will play host to a signing event from 9:30 a.m. to 11:30 a.m.
Sandie Maddox, another resident in the Vintage neighborhood, is organizing a signing event for Saturday, March 1, or Sunday, March 2, in the community room at Fire Station No. 7.
Details about that event and future signing events will be posted on the group’s website, frackfreedenton.com.
Denton DAG members will be on hand to help answer people’s questions as will residents of the Vintage neighborhood, Maddox said.
“Residents in other neighborhoods, people who haven’t been affected but will be, can come and understand the experience,” Maddox said.
PEGGY HEINKEL-WOLFE can be reached at 940-566-6881 and via Twitter at @phwolfeDRC.