City task force split on more public notification about drilling activities
Denton’s gas well task force split Monday on recommendations requiring more public notification of drilling activities, in a meeting that continued highlighting divisions between the panel’s citizen and industry-related members.
The panel voted unanimously in favor of requiring companies to hold community meetings before taking specific-use permit applications to the Planning and Zoning Commission, but a proposal to force companies to notify neighborhoods before re-fracturing wells failed on a 3-2 vote.
The panel also voted 4-1 to require companies to notify neighborhoods of all new drilling activities or facilities, regardless of whether the projects required City Council approval.
Even when they ultimately agreed, task force members often clashed before the votes over the need for more regulation.
Also, the meeting was temporarily sidetracked after member John Siegmund said he wanted to bar recommendations from the Denton Stakeholder Drilling Advisory Group, or DAG, an independent advisory panel that favors more industry regulation, from future agendas of the official task force unless a task force member was willing to sponsor the items.
Siegmund, a retired petroleum engineer and industry official, said the advisory panel’s recommendations were too narrowly “environmental” and had bogged down prior task force meetings in extended discussions that often went nowhere.
The two task force members most sympathetic to DAG, Vicki Oppenheim and Tom La Point, initially objected, saying they didn’t want to limit outside input. They later joined the 5-0 vote approving the proposal after Siegmund said it wouldn’t prevent task force members from sponsoring items from outside groups.
Oppenheim said she would continue sponsoring DAG items under her name.
Adam Briggle, a University of North Texas professor who led the DAG group, said he wasn’t concerned about the change.
“It makes sense to have a sponsor for DAG items,” Briggle said in an interview. “I didn’t see it as limiting public input, just clarifying our role.”
The task force delayed action on whether to increase liability insurance and bonding requirements for drilling companies until city staff could conduct more research.
The task force is meeting weekly through March to help the council update the city’s gas drilling and production ordinance. The council approved a four-month moratorium on new drilling permits Feb. 7 with a goal of passing a new ordinance before the moratorium expires.
Much of Monday’s meeting focused on public input and notification.
Currently, gas drilling and production is allowed “by right” in some zoning districts, meaning no council action or public hearing is required. In other zoning districts, the city requires a specific-use permit, a process that includes public hearings and votes before the Planning and Zoning Commission and City Council.
The division between the panel’s citizen and industry-related representatives became more pronounced last week, when the task force voted 3-2 against several proposals that would have increased regulations on gas pipelines and related facilities.
The task force also voted 4-1 to have city staff study pipeline rules in Flower Mound and Grand Prairie for possible adoption, although staff members said cities have limited authority over the placement of pipelines and related equipment such as compressors.
Oppenheim, a planning manager with Denton-based Green Leaf Environmental Planning, has been the driving force behind most of the proposed regulations at recent meetings. Her closest ally has been La Point, a UNT environmental researcher.
The three other voting members — Siegmund, Don Butler and Ed Ireland — have generally been more skeptical of the need for new regulation beyond what the city, state and federal governments already require.
Butler is a project manager with oil and gas consulting and engineering firm New Tech Global. Ireland is executive director of the industry-funded Barnett Shale Energy Education Council.
LOWELL BROWN can be reached at 940-566-6882. His e-mail address is email@example.com .