Ponder adopts drilling rules

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PONDER - The Town Council has adopted new rules for natural gas development, increasing setbacks from neighborhoods, protecting platted property and adding public notification requirements.

The council moved swiftly to adopt the new ordinance, having declined to impose a moratorium on new permits requested earlier this summer by residents of Remington Park, the town's largest neighborhood.

Residents of Remington Park, where about 300 of Ponder's 1,395 residents live, were upset about a new Devon well site being drilled where additional homes and a neighborhood park had been planned.

Ponder's decade-old ordinance was weak enough to permit well sites 300 feet from homes - too close for the neighborhood's health, safety and welfare, they said.

After hearing feedback from residents and an energy company representative about the new rules, the council flirted briefly with tabling the vote until the suggestions could be incorporated, but ultimately decided to adopt it.

"We can always refine it at our next meeting," Mayor Scott McCarty said.

Gilbert Horton, a Devon Energy representative, gave each council member a copy of the ordinance with suggested revisions, which he characterized as grammatical in nature.

"They don't change your intent," Horton said.

Both Horton and residents agreed that the new notification requirements are better and some could still be improved - for example, a requirement to notify residents of an upcoming fracture at a well site by putting a sign out front.

"That sign wouldn't serve its purpose," Horton said, adding that the company could post a sign in the cul-de-sac, and was already planning to mail letters to everyone in the neighborhood when operations were planned.

Resident Wes Howard was concerned that some notification requirements lacked timelines. He said he could envision a scenario where a notification landed in his mailbox on a Friday and by the opening of business Monday, it would be too late to take meaningful action.

He also said residents don't think 600 feet is far enough for setbacks, based on visits with neighbors who live that distance from Devon's current site.

Resident Chris Mills also complained that the new setback requirements are not written in plain language.

"It goes from one extreme to the other," she said.

The single sentence that provides a 500-foot setback from water wells was written so clearly, "my 4-year-old granddaughter could tell me what that means," Mills said.

But the part on setbacks for other protected uses, such as homes, schools and businesses, takes seven sentences to explain and includes too many loopholes, she said.

The language of the new ordinance includes forbidding drilling in any "thickly settled" part of Ponder, with the definition of that phrase to be at the sole discretion of the Town Council.

Mayor Pro Tem Alan Gorman disagreed that the language includes loopholes, saying that it leaves room for variances in specific circumstances.

"We don't want what just happened in Remington Park [to happen again]," Gorman said.

In an interview Friday, resident Veronica Kronvall said the ordinance is better than what the town had before, which, except for small items, had not been revisited in a decade.

"I think we've accomplished a lot, just as average citizens," Kronvall said.

She added that residents are looking for additional representation, since the fracturing of the first two wells is imminent and the residents don't want to see any more wells drilled at the site.

"It's at that point where we're not getting anywhere further with the town," she said.

PEGGY HEINKEL-WOLFE can be reached at 940-566-6881. Her e-mail address is pheinkel-wolfe@dentonrc.com.


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