Some criticize short review time for long draft of ordinance
The city released another draft of its natural gas ordinance after the close of business Friday, in response to comments it has received so far on the first rewrite of new rules for shale gas drilling and production.
This next round of rewrites will be discussed at the final meeting of the city’s gas drilling task force, which begins with a closed session at 4:30 p.m. Monday and moves to a public meeting in the Council Chambers at 6 p.m.
The task force met over the course of several months this year and recommended 40 areas of change to the current ordinance. They turned over the recommendations to city staff in April for the first rewrite.
Task force members did not receive a copy of the first rewrite before their Oct. 1 meeting, which was ostensibly called to discuss the rewrite. In an interview Friday afternoon, resident and task force member Vicki Oppenheim said she had yet to see the second rewrite. She called the 40-plus page ordinance complex and the pending review time short.
“I’ll do my best,” Oppenheim said.
One City Council member has publicly called the rewrite process “bungled.”
Both residents and members of natural gas industry were encouraged to comment after the first draft was released on Oct. 2. During the advertised comment period, the city received comments from residents, industry and an environmental group. A total of 25 comments are posted on the gas well inspections page of the city’s website, www.cityofdenton.com.
Many residents complained that the comment period was too short for so complex a document.
Several comments expressed concern that landowners would not be able to lease if the rules for drilling and production became too restrictive. Devon Energy submitted a five-page analysis and a two-page letter, saying the city failed in the first rewrite “by not thoroughly engaging local natural gas operators as a meaningful resource.”
Yet other residents complained that the first rewrite differed little from the original ordinance, nor did it reflect many of the changes recommended by the city’s gas drilling task force — itself criticized for marginalizing residents’ health and safety concerns.
The Denton Stakeholders Drilling Advisory Group said the first rewrite failed to meet the directive to protect the health, safety and welfare of its citizens. The group posted its own rewritten ordinance on its website, http://dentondrilling.blogspot.com. Resident Adam Briggle said he included justifications, such as references to other cities’ ordinances, with each edit.
Bruce Baizel, an attorney with Earthworks, a national nonprofit group that has issued several reports on the impacts of shale gas development in Texas and other states, also made 14 separate recommendations to the first rewrite.
Comments from both Devon and Earthworks pointed out that the city doesn’t reference state and federal rules governing oil and gas operators.
Assistant City Manager John Cabrales said there were quite a few changes in the second round of rewrites, but declined to summarize the nature of them, saying that summary would be presented to the task force on Monday night.
A marked-up copy of the first rewrite showed 37 edits, most with a reference to one or more of the task force’s 40 recommendations. The marked-up copy of the second rewrite showed 146 edits, primarily with references to consultant- or staff-recommended edits rather than a particular comment.
On his blog, council member Kevin Roden called the process “bungled,” but in an interview Friday afternoon, he said he remains hopeful that the city can still put together rules to address health and safety concerns.
Unfortunately, it will probably take longer, he said, because interested residents have been frustrated by the process and the City Council has not had any open meetings on the topic since May.
“The city staff is well-meaning, but they need to trust in the City Council and that we can guide that process of citizen input,” Roden said.
PEGGY HEINKEL-WOLFE can be reached at 940-566-6881. Her e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org.