Task force OKs regulation of natural gas facilities, more air quality rules
Denton's official gas drilling task force voted Monday to recommend approval of more air quality regulations but rejected a ban on compressor stations and tank farms as impractical.
The task force voted 4-1 against the ban but later voted unanimously to "regulate" sites that collect, store and compress natural gas by enforcing "best practices" and air quality monitoring. Vicki Oppenheim, an environmental planner, cast the sole vote for banning the facilities, which have been a focus of concern about noise and harmful air emissions.
Task force member Ed Ireland, executive director of the industry-funded Barnett Shale Energy Education Council, said there are practical reasons for each of the facilities and that banning them would have unintended consequences.
"The reason for collection stations is to minimize the amount of land that's required to accomplish a certain task," Ireland said. "So instead of having a lot of 3-acre tank farms or whatever, an efficiency move could be to combine all of those into one 5-acre [farm]."
The ban was recommended by the Denton Stakeholder Drilling Advisory Group, or DAG, a separate advisory panel that issued a report in December calling for a more expansive permitting process for natural gas drilling and production facilities to protect residents from the industry's socioeconomic and environmental effects. Task force member John Siegmund, a retired petroleum engineer, dismissed the DAG report Monday, saying the group's members lacked practical experience in the industry.
The DAG group is not an official part of the city's ordinance review, although City Council member Kevin Roden helped organize it.
"I don't think we have to justify to a great extent that we're not going to go along with a particular item," Siegmund said.
When the task force later opened the meeting to public comments, resident Candice Bernd said members made the wrong call. She said many residents support the DAG recommendations as the best alternative to a drilling ban, which city officials say isn't legally defensible.
The meeting continued a discussion from the last task force meeting Jan. 9, when members voted to send multiple air quality regulations for review, including requirements for "best practices," more air monitoring and pollution-control devices, and a ban on open flaring.
The task force added more items to that list Monday, voting unanimously to recommend proper air testing equipment and training for city inspectors and to have the city consider methane-reduction measures endorsed by the Environmental Defense Fund, among other things.
The task force finished the air quality topic and adjourned after three hours, leaving water quality issues for their next meeting. The panel is meeting on Monday nights through March to help develop changes to the city's gas drilling and production ordinance.
The City Council ultimately must approve any changes. Staff members have said they hope to get a draft ordinance to the council in March.
The council is expected to meet Jan. 31 to discuss passing a temporary moratorium on new drilling permits until the city finishes the ordinance review. A vote on the moratorium is expected Feb. 7.
Several members of CLEAN Resources, a Fort Worth-based pro-industry group, addressed the task force Monday night downplaying the industry's health and environmental effects. They warned that overregulation could kill industry jobs.
Most Denton residents who spoke favored stronger regulations. Natalie Johnson criticized Ireland, one of the panel's two industry representatives, for suggesting that the city give operators discretion in exactly how they meet certain standards.
"We can't let these companies enforce these regulations because they won't," Johnson said.
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