Four Denton City Council members said late Tuesday they would support a moratorium on new gas drilling and production permits.
The comments came at the end of a nine-hour council meeting that saw members delaying action on two natural gas-related projects, reflecting a reluctance to approve new permits while the city works to revamp its gas drilling and production ordinance.
A city task force is meeting through March to help develop ordinance changes, but the process has no firm end date. Staff members have said they hope to get a draft ordinance to the council in March.
With a possible end in sight, council member Dalton Gregory said the time is right to pass a moratorium. He asked to add the issue to the council's Jan. 31 planning session agenda, allowing a vote Feb. 7.
Council members Chris Watts, Kevin Roden and Jim Engelbrecht each said they would support a moratorium, indicating it would pass with at least four votes on the seven-member council. Mayor Mark Burroughs, who leads the council's agenda committee, said after the meeting he would add a moratorium to the upcoming agendas.
"I think it's a good idea to consider a moratorium once we have a pretty clear concluding time for getting our Phase II [ordinance] proposal in front of us," Burroughs said. "We want to avoid a rush of applications right before a new ordinance goes into effect by folks that are really speculating; they're not even ready to pull the trigger … but they want to get in under what they might perceive to be looser regulation."
A moratorium has been a top priority of many residents and was a key recommendation in a recent report by the Denton Stakeholder Drilling Advisory Group, another task force advising the city. But council members had been reluctant to discuss the issue until Tuesday.
That changed after the council faced two drilling-related permit requests and decided to punt them, largely because of the pending ordinance review.
"If that's going to be our position as a council, we just need to make sure we communicate that to the industry so we don't run into these kinds of situations anymore," Watts said. "It's time to get this [ordinance] done, and until then there's no reason for us to continue to go through this."
The council was scheduled to vote on a natural gas storage well for Atmos Energy Corp. in eastern Denton and a request by Eagleridge Operating to permit gas drilling and production across the street from the University of North Texas' Apogee Stadium, where there are two existing wells without city permits.
The council planned to revisit the cases after the city finished its ordinance review, or after staff members clarified questions regarding the projects.
In other action, the final leg of a Denton Municipal Electric transmission line won approval as the council opted for a route that will hug Loop 288 in northeast Denton and spare a nearby neighborhood. The council unanimously approved the route known as "Option C" after a public hearing, despite concerns raised by an owner of an affected 54-acre vacant property at the southeast corner of Loop 288 and North Locust Street.
Council members said they would still consider amending the route's footprint through that property if negotiations with the landowners resulted in a better solution. As approved, the power line will run through mostly open land outside Loop 288 from the Kings Row area to Locust.
The vote ended months of debate and meetings over the project's footprint and pleased residents of the Hercules Lane area who proposed the route as an alternative to one DME previously planned through their neighborhood.
The project will upgrade transmission lines and replace wood poles with taller steel poles from the Denton North substation at Hercules and Locust to a substation off Spencer Road to the south.
The council voted in November to approve the project's southern segment, connecting a proposed new Kings Row substation off Loop 288 to the Spencer-area substation, but withheld approval of a northern route after area residents opposed it.
That route, known as "Option A" or the yellow route, would have connected the Denton North and Kings Row substations mostly by running the power line along or near its current footprint down Hercules.
Option C was the most expensive of three routes considered in the area, but DME officials said the estimated $11.1 million cost includes new distribution lines needed for future growth outside the loop. The total project is now expected to cost about $31 million.
The Tuesday evening meeting started more than an hour late because the council's closed session ran long. The closed session agenda included discussions of the gas-related permit requests.
Mayor Pro Tem Pete Kamp was absent.
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