Group in minority says panel did not address concerns of residents
A minority report from members of Denton’s official gas well task force says the task force was too small, did not represent residents, did not fully vet their concerns on natural gas production and, unlike similar committees in other cities, did not hear expert presentations or make site visits.
In short, the primary reason for overhauling Denton’s gas well ordinance — residents’ concerns — became a minority consideration.
The four-page report was prepared by Vicki Oppenheim and Thomas La Point, who are two of three Denton residents serving on the task force. The third resident, John Siegmund, a retired petroleum engineer, often sided with industry representatives in 3-2 votes that killed some recommendations that could have addressed residents’ most significant environmental concerns.
Oppenheim proposed many agenda items for the task force to consider, many derived from a series of community meetings organized by the Denton Stakeholder Drilling Advisory Group. After several meetings, the task force forwarded 44 recommendations to the city. Many other items that Oppenheim, La Point and the advisory group had advanced were shot down.
“There was information we needed that could have been helpful in the deliberations for everyone, and it just didn’t happen,” Oppenheim said. “I don’t think the issues were discussed enough.”
Community concerns were considered before they were defeated by the committee’s vote, Siegmund said.
“We had so many things we had to batten down that came up that served no real purpose,” Siegmund said. “I really think so many people approach this as making it [gas production] complex and difficult so that the gas companies will back off and not drill.”
Many items had nothing to do with safety, although Siegmund said that some items might have protected quality of life.
“But from an economic benefit for Denton, this [drilling] needs to happen,” he said.
La Point disagreed with Siegmund’s characterization, saying that some defeated items were vital to a fast-growing city that is expected to double in population by 2030 — for example, mapping pipeline locations.
“You’d be surprised how quickly that information gets lost,” La Point said.
Neither industry representative on the task force — Don Butler of New Tech Global and Ed Ireland of the industry-funded Barnett Shale Energy Education Council — returned a call for comment on the report.
The minority report asks the City Council to increase public notification requirements, limit large compression facilities to industrial areas, do more to mitigate noise and add measures that protect soil, air and surface water quality.
Notable, too, was a recommendation that the City Council consider the impact of the gas industry’s aging infrastructure.
Some Denton gas wells and their associated equipment are more than 10 years old.
Ownership often changes hands as gas production diminishes.
City staff members have already begun to write the new rules based on the majority votes of the task force, said Planning Director Mark Cunningham.
Once that work is complete, the new rules will be forwarded to the city’s legal department, which will send it to outside consultants for scientific and legal review.
“Once we send it to an outside party, to some degree we are at their mercy,” Cunningham said, adding that the soonest the City Council would have the new rules is the end of June.
The council has the final authority on the adoption of any new rules.
But first, members of the task force will meet to see whether the new rules meet the “spirit and intent” of its collective recommendations, Cunningham said.
Then, the matter goes before the city’s Planning and Zoning Commission, which could delay the matter further if it does not vote on the new rules at its first hearing, Cunningham said.
A moratorium on new drilling permits is scheduled to expire on June 6.
However the City Council has the option to extend the four-month moratorium it enacted in February to revise the rules.
PEGGY HEINKEL-WOLFE can be reached at 940-566-6881. Her e-mail is firstname.lastname@example.org .
IF YOU GO
• What: Natural gas drilling and production will be the focus of a mayoral candidate debate tonight at the University of North Texas.
• When: 7 to 9 p.m.
• Where: Room 125, Environmental Education, Science and Technology Building on the west side of Avenue C, between Hickory and Mulberry streets