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City to get update on drilling rules

Profile image for By Lowell Brown / Staff Writer
By Lowell Brown / Staff Writer

Denton City Council members will hear an update today on efforts to overhaul the city's natural gas drilling ordinance.

No recommendations have yetemerged from the city or its official gas well drilling task force, which held its first meeting Oct. 27. Staff members will use today's meeting to update the council on the code review and the work of the seven-month-old gas well inspections division, said Darren Groth, the city's gas well administrator.

"It's a chance to talk to council and give them an update of where we are," Groth said. "They may want to put a timeline on when they want the draft [ordinance]."

Denton is in the second phase of an ordinance review after passing a collection of changes last year that included higher permit and inspection fees and larger buffers between gas wells and homes. City officials have said the second phase would focus heavily on health and environmental issues.

The task force met last month to discuss priority topics, including those identified during an Aug. 25 public forum at the Denton Civic Center, said Groth, the task force chairman. Many speakers at the forum pushed for more restrictions to protect the air, water and property values from potential harm by the industry, while others, including industry representatives, called for a more cautious approach that respects mineral owners' rights.

"The task force wanted to flesh out all of the topics before we start writing [the ordinance] to make sure we cover the topics people want us to cover," Groth said. "Then we'll be able to draft an ordinance to get the task force members to weigh in on."

The task force now includes eight people, including three citizen representatives, two city staff members and three industry-related representatives, according to a list released by the city Friday. Seven lawyers, including four outside attorneys, and five other city employees are assisting the task force.

Another public meeting is planned for the first week of December, according to a timeline prepared for today's meeting. City staff members would prepare a draft ordinance and present it to the task force for review sometime after that.

Versions of a proposed new ordinance would appear on the city's website after the task force reviewed them, under the proposed timeline.

Ultimately, the proposed ordinance would face public hearings before the Planning and Zoning Commission and council before a final council vote.

City staff members have also met with University of North Texas philosophy professor Adam Briggle, who is leading a research project known as the Denton Stakeholder Drilling Advisory Group, or DAG.

The advisory group isn't officially part of the city's ordinance review, although council member Kevin Roden helped organize it.

Groth praised the advisory group for holding a series of panel discussions featuring expert speakers and question-and-answer sessions.

"I don't think we want to duplicate what DAG is doing," Groth said. "They've done a good job. We may ask them to summarize what they've done and come up with their own recommendations."

The advisory group is preparing a document for release this week that will outline the principles it thinks should guide the decision-making process, Briggle said.

Members will offer recommendations for ordinance changes before the December public meeting, he said.

City officials have welcomed the group members' input, Briggle said.

They've also shared insights into the challenges they face, including legal concerns and tradeoffs inherent in certain regulations, he said.

For example, some water recycling plans could require more truck trips to and from drilling sites, resulting in more air emissions, he said.

"It's really become a collaborative and congenial atmosphere that I'm happy about," Briggle said. "There are still real disagreements there maybe, but it's a respectful partnership."

LOWELL BROWN can be reached at 940-566-6882. His e-mail address is . IF YOU GO

• What: Denton City Council work session•  When: 3:30 p.m. today• Where: City Hall, 215 E. McKinney St.• Why: The agenda includes a report and discussion on Phase II of the city's gas well ordinance revisions. • Online: Download the meeting agenda and background materials at  under the "agendas/minutes/videos" link. GAS TASK FORCE

Members of Denton's official gas well drilling task force are listed below along with their business affiliation:• Darren Groth (chairman), city gas well administrator• John Siegmund, citizen representative/former petroleum engineer• Tom La Point, citizen representative/environmental researcher, University of North Texas • Vicki Oppenheim, citizen representative/planning project manager, Green Leaf Environmental Planning• Ken Banks, city environmental services director• Ed Ireland, executive director, Barnett Shale Energy Education Council• Don Butler, senior project manager, New Tech Global, an oil and gas consulting and engineering firm• Kenneth Tramm, founding member, Modern Geosciences, an environmental science and engineering consulting firmFour outside attorneys are also assisting the ordinance review:• Terry Cross, McClure & Cross LLP • Martin Rochelle, Lloyd Gosselink• David Klein, Lloyd Gosselink • Terry Morgan, Goins, Underkofler, Crawford & Langdon LLP SOURCE: city of Denton, staff research