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Task force advances site-improvement items

Profile image for By Peggy Heinkel-Wolfe / Staff Writer
By Peggy Heinkel-Wolfe / Staff Writer

Members of the Denton’s gas drilling task force moved on a few items that could improve site conditions around natural gas wells and production facilities, although the group declined to advance all the items that could make both old wells and new ones look better.

The two key requirements the group advanced for further consideration included requiring operators to provide a site reclamation plan when applying for a permit and requiring all sites to be screened in a manner that suits the surroundings.

The committee began meeting in February and will meet each Monday through March, preparing recommendations to the City Council to revise Denton’s natural gas drilling and production ordinance. The council has final authority on the adoption of any new rules.

Task force member John Siegmund, a Denton resident and retired petroleum engineer, called a site reclamation plan a “make-work” requirement, when considering that most sites might be in operation for 50 years or more and most of the reclamation work happens at the end of the well’s life.

“Typically the company that drills is not the one that abandons the well,” Siegmund said. “That’s sold to a salvage company.”

Fellow task force members Tom LaPoint, an environmental sciences professor, and Vicki Oppenheim, an environmental planner, said the most important reason for having the plan at the beginning was to document current site conditions, something that might not be knowable decades in the future.

Ed Ireland, task force member and executive director of the industry-funded Barnett Shale Energy Education Council, said the measure would get in between a private agreement between a landowner and operator.

LaPoint disagreed, saying that private agreements don’t exempt parties from the common good.

“These aren’t the 1800s anymore,” LaPoint said.

In addition, Oppenheim said the requirements can help address problems with some of the older wells in the community. Denton has gas wells that are more than 10 years old, dating from the earliest days of the Barnett Shale boom.

Rhetoric was less divisive during a subsequent discussion about screening gas wells and other production sites. The task force recommended that the city tie any aesthetic requirements to the city’s development code.

The task force declined to specify “neutral colors” to the city’s current ordinance, which requires operators to keep their equipment painted.

In addition to looking bad, rusted equipment presents other maintenance issues, such as popped rivets and a build-up of static electricity, according to the city’s gas well inspector, Darren Groth.

Groth told task force members that the current ordinance requiring such upkeep has proven to be the “No. 1” issue inspectors find and they are getting good compliance from the city’s 50 or so operators.

The Texas Commission on Environmental Quality prefers tanks be painted white, to help the equipment stay as cool as possible and reduce emissions that come from vaporization of the volatile compounds inside the tanks.

The task force also declined to define the re-fracturing of a well as a trigger to update equipment and operating standards.

Oppenheim proposed the measure as one that could help improve site conditions at some of the city’s older wells, but other task force members agreed that re-fracturing likely fits the definition of well maintenance activity.

Groth suggested that because the topic was complex, that perhaps the city needs to do a legal review of what triggers new requirements in the city code, similar to triggers for meeting new standards under state and federal laws.

Task force member Don Butler was absent from the meeting, making the possibility of 2-2 votes.

Groth told the dozen or so people in attendance that any tie votes would be considered “approved.” But all votes were 4-0.

On Feb. 7, the City Council enacted a four-month moratorium on new drilling permits while the city revises its drilling and production ordinance.

PEGGY HEINKEL-WOLFE can be reached at 940-566-6881. Her email address is .