Petition seeks fracking support

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Another petition is circulating in Denton, this time to support hydraulic fracturing.

Resident Sandy Swann said she was stopped Tuesday by a woman in front of South Branch Library. The woman asked her if she wanted to sign a petition “about fracking.”

“I asked her how different it was from the petition we had now and she had no clue,” Swann said.

Nearly 2,000 Denton residents recently signed a petition to ban fracking inside Denton city limits. The technological advance — which uses high-pressure pumping of sand, water and chemicals to extract oil and natural gas from shale — has triggered a controversial energy boom around the country.

Denton’s petition is an initiative under the city charter and binds the City Council to consider the ordinance that was part of the petition. Council members are expected to consider the ordinance on July 15. They could ban fracking in the city limits that night. However, if they reject it, the initiative would go before the voters in November.

Swann left the petition worker and went into the library. Then she reconsidered and went back out to visit with the woman about the work she was doing.

The woman told Swann she was being paid $2 for each signature. The name of the company on her paycheck was “Denton Taxpayers for a Strong Economy.”

No entity with that name is registered with the Texas Ethics Commission. The only entities that have filed campaign finance paperwork with the Denton city secretary are “Pass the Ban,” which supports the frack ban, and “Denton First,” which supports a recently filed petition to change the liquor laws.

John Hatch, whose firm, Texas Petition Strategies, helped Denton First, said that it’s possible a national firm is involved with the latest petition.

In April, many residents reported getting a phone survey from a group that would not identify itself, asking how residents might feel about the consequences of a fracking ban.

Resident Ed Soph said he got one of those calls. The caller’s questions were leading and odd, he said.

Reb Wayne of Mesa Media, a political consulting group based in Austin, said a political group was likely “message testing” Denton residents with the April phone calls. If that political group is organized as a nonprofit under the federal tax code, Denton residents may never know where the money is coming from, he said.

Texas Petition Strategies works for nearly all of the North Texas communities looking to change their liquor laws, Hatch said.

When he got ready for the petition drive in Denton, he said he had a hard time lining up enough workers. National petition firms are here, he said, hiring workers for plebiscite campaigns as part of the gubernatorial race.

Plebiscite petitions generally don’t bind government bodies to any action. Signatures on those petitions don’t have to be from voters registered in Denton, the way both the liquor and frack ban petitions did.

Adam Briggle of the Denton Drilling Advisory Group said someone called him to tell him about a plebiscite petition to support hydraulic fracturing and told him the goal was to gather 8,000 signatures in support of the practice. But the caller wouldn’t identify herself, he said.

Briggle said the group has very little information to go on, but they plan on alerting people on their mailing list that there is another petition circulating in support of hydraulic fracturing.

“I think they may be presenting it to the City Council on July 15,” Briggle said.

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

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