About 30 Denton residents came out to show their support for continuing a moratorium on new natural gas development until city officials can complete their overhaul of rules for drilling and production.
The City Council approved a 75-day extension of the moratorium Tuesday night, to Dec. 18, by passing an ordinance that clarifies the council’s intention to not interfere with vested property rights.
Though the existing moratorium was not scheduled to expire until the first week of October, the issue came to a head when one company, Eagleridge Operating, asked for relief from the moratorium.
The company had filed applications to drill four wells on the west side of town prior to the moratorium, which gave them vested rights, according to attorney Terry Morgan, who is consulting with the city on updating its ordinance.
“The state’s vested rights come not by the approval of a permit, but by the pre-filing of the application,” Morgan told the council during its regular meeting Tuesday.
Eagleridge withdrew its application for the variances last week, once it became clear that its applications to drill the new wells would be allowed to proceed.
Some residents set up a demonstration in support of the moratorium outside City Hall two hours before the meeting. They moved indoors, lining the steps to the council chambers, holding signs and wearing protective masks.
They told the council that they didn’t think any operator should be granted an exception.
Resident Tara Linn Hunter said she read the letters Eagleridge sent claiming the moratorium had caused the company harm. The harm the company has been caused is financial, but the community has been harmed by company operations such as putting benzene in the air and dumping in Hickory Creek, Hunter said.
An Eagleridge worker faces felony charges of illegal dumping after city employees visited a well site in the 3100 block of Airport Road and found a pump forcing contaminated water into a tributary of Hickory Creek.
Even though Eagleridge might be vested under the old rules, resident Amber Briggle said it might be in the company’s interest to drill and operate the four wells without flares or open pits, using environmentally friendly completion methods and other vapor-recovery technology.
“You [Eagleridge] could set a standard of responsibility and turn around your reputation,” Briggle said.
Her husband, Adam Briggle, said he was concerned about operators claiming vested rights under the old rules, especially as operators sell their interests and “old wells are reworked by new operators.”
Council member Jim Engelbrecht said he supported the extension of the moratorium and appreciated the challenge that residents had issued to Eagleridge and other operators who might not be required to upgrade old technologies.
“They have an opportunity to bring in wells with no flares, and with vapor recovery,” Engelbrecht said. “We’ll watch and see.”
Adam Briggle and former gas drilling task force member Vicki Oppenheim said they were concerned that the time frame for public input on the new ordinance could be too short.
City officials have said that they will publish the draft ordinance for public comment the first week of October. A number of public meetings are planned between October and mid-December, when the council will consider the final rules.
Council members Dalton Gregory and Pete Kamp said they were comfortable knowing that, if it became clear more time for public input was needed, they would be able to extend the moratorium again.
PEGGY HEINKEL-WOLFE can be reached at 940-566-6881. Her e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org .
IN OTHER ACTION
During its regular meeting Tuesday, the Denton City Council also:
• Adopted a 2012 property tax rate of $0.68975 per $100 of valuation and approved the property tax roll.
• Adopted new utility fees and rates for the 2012-13 budget year.
• Adopted a $745 million budget for city services and capital improvements in 2012-13.
• Approved 14 contracts for communication and technology services totaling $2.1 million.
• Assigned an economic incentive agreement from Grand Mesa LLC to Schlumberger Technology Corp.
• Renewed a four-year contract with Innovative Transportation Solutions for $630,000.
• Renewed a contract with Teague Nall and Perkins for survey services for a maximum of $400,000.
• Funded the 2012-13 economic development partnership with the Denton Chamber of Commerce for $226,259.
• Authorized a consulting agreement with Denver-based Clarion Associates for infill and redevelopment planning services, up to $150,000.
• Updated codes to 2009 standards for building, energy conservation, fire, fuel gas, mechanical and plumbing, and the electrical code to 2011 standards.
• Acquired about 2 1/2 acres in right of way for the widening of Mayhill Road for $141,276.
• Granted an exception to the city’s noise ordinance for a Mexican Independence Day celebration Saturday at La Estrella Mini Market.
• Created a new Council Committee on Citizen Engagement and named Jim Engelbrecht, Dalton Gregory and Kevin Roden to it.