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Gas panel differs on site conditions

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

Denton’s gas drilling task force on Monday rejected several proposals to improve site conditions around gas wells and production facilities while endorsing measures meant to keep mud from pooling at well sites and spreading onto public streets.

In split votes, the task force voted down proposals from member Vicki Oppenheim to require baseline soil testing at gas drilling and production sites and maintenance plans for seals on gas storage tanks, after a majority said the measures were unnecessary or covered under previously approved action items.

The panel also voted 3-2 against asking city leaders to meet with the county government about enhancing regulations in part of the city’s extraterritorial jurisdiction, land outside the city limits where the city and county have an agreement to share certain rulemaking authority.

The task force is wrapping up several months of initial work helping city leaders craft a new gas drilling and production ordinance. The last of its weekly meetings is scheduled for Monday, although city officials plan to reconvene the panel to present proposed code language after legal and scientific experts review it.

The meeting continued a trend of Oppenheim, an environmental planner, proposing new regulations and meeting various degrees of skepticism from the panel’s other four voting members.

The task force includes three citizen members and two industry-related representatives, although one of the citizen members, retired petroleum engineer John Siegmund, often sides with the industry.

Oppenheim said she proposed the baseline soil testing requirement after speaking with Wilma Subra, a Louisiana chemist who spoke at the University of North Texas last week about the possible health impacts of hydraulic fracturing and gas drilling.

Baseline testing provides a picture of a site’s conditions before industry operations occur, potentially allowing property owners to more easily lay blame if a spill of fracking fluid or other liquids pollutes their land.

Siegmund argued that soil testing should be left up to drilling and production companies, who he said have a financial incentive to prevent spills and to report them when they occur.

“The watchdog for the spill is really the landowner,” not the city, Siegmund said.

Industry representatives Don Butler and Ed Ireland said state agencies already have rules governing spills and cleanups. Darren Groth, the city’s gas well administrator, said those rules might not require companies to report small spills but that the city has the power to require cleanup of any discharges.

The measure to require baseline soil testing failed on a 4-1 vote, with Oppenheim in the minority.

On a 3-2 vote, the task force directed city staffers to study ways to prevent water and mud from pooling inside gas drilling and production sites. Members voted unanimously in favor of regulations to keep mud and rocks at those facilities from spilling onto public streets, after agreeing the matter was a safety issue.

Members also voted 5-0 to clarify an existing requirement for lightning arrestor systems on gas tank batteries, after Oppenheim said lightning strikes were a problem.

The task force is scheduled to meet next Monday to consider regulations related to the industry’s use of city water and streets. The City Council passed a moratorium on new drilling and production permits in February to allow the code review to run its course. The council ultimately must approve any new regulations.

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