Area city suspends new gas permits

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The Bartonville Town Council voted this week to impose a 90-day moratorium on new permits for natural gas drilling and hydraulic fracturing.

The council also agreed to form a seven-member advisory board on gas drilling and production, although no appointments were made.

Mayor Ron Robertson said the moratorium, passed 3-0 Wednesday night, would serve as a "cooling off period" as town leaders continue studying potential new regulations. He said council members are particularly concerned about chemicals used in hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, a controversial practice that involves pumping millions of gallons of water, sand and chemicals underground to break up rock and free gas.

At least one operator is currently fracking a well in Bartonville.

"We need to get a better grasp on what we will allow," Robertson said. "We've been told by industry personnel, even operators in the area, that they can frack without chemicals - that the chemicals are really used as a signature to the individual well driller more than anything. You can frack with just water and sand."

The ordinance says the town will not accept permits for drilling or fracking, but it allows the council to grant waivers.

Representatives of XTO Energy Inc. and Williams Production Co. appeared Wednesday to oppose the moratorium. XTO spokesman Jeff Neu said Thursday that company officials understand the town's interest in reviewing operating practices in the Barnett Shale region and are committed to addressing public concerns.

"Our own experience and compliance with municipal, state and federal regulations demonstrates that these operations can be conducted safely and in an environmentally responsible manner," Neu wrote in an e-mail to the Record-Chronicle.

Neu said about 0.5 percent of fracking fluid is "additives" that serve specific purposes, including preventing bacteria growth, reducing friction as water moves through pipe and keeping sand in the solution. The remainder is fresh water and sand, he said.

Moratorium supporters included the Argyle-Bartonville Communities Alliance, which has fought the placement of gas infrastructure near homes and schools over health and safety concerns. Alliance member Susan Knoll, a Bartonville resident, called the moratorium a step in the right direction.

"I think everything deserves to be looked at and re-looked at," she said. "We should make it so that no one gets poisoned from gas drilling."

Town leaders received mounds of information from people representing all sides of the issue. The advisory board will help them digest it, said Debbie Millican, town administrator.

"They're going to go through all those materials and seek other information and then make a recommendation" for future action, she said.

The board was meant to include two council members, two residents, two industry representatives and one state or federal regulator or other expert. So far, town leaders are having trouble finding residents to serve because some have pending lawsuits against the industry, Robertson said.

"It's kind of hard to have them serve on a committee when they're suing each other," he said.

Town leaders have been studying the industry for months in an attempt to tighten their regulations. In December, they hosted a public meeting with state and federal government officials who said they lacked research to know whether the industry posed a long-term threat to North Texans' health and water supplies.

The Flower Mound-Bartonville area is on a shortlist of regions that could be studied as part ofthe Environmental Protection Agency's planned review of hydraulic fracturing.

The two Denton County towns, home to extensive drilling operations, were among the candidates for case studies involving sites where the practice could be researched as it was occurring, according to a report released in February.

Robertson said town leaders are aware of the potential study but don't know when it might occur. It was not a major factor in the decision Wednesday, he said.

Council members Carla Anderson, James Ferrell and Bill Reaves voted for the moratorium. Gracie Egan and James Ashburn abstained because of potential conflicts of interest. Robertson votes only to break a tie.

LOWELL BROWN can be reached at 940-566-6882. His e-mail address is lmbrown@dentonrc.com .

 

 


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