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Residents address drilling task force

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

Public reaction to Denton’s ever-evolving rules for natural gas drilling and production ran the gamut Monday night — from long lists of additional requests to accusations of racism.

Three people spoke to the city staff and members of the city’s gas drilling task force in Spanish, in part to protest that the city has not translated the proposed new rules. They and several other English speakers reminded the group that about 16 percent of Denton households are Spanish-only.

Resident Angel Bravo, the first to address the meeting in Spanish, spoke for two minutes before switching to English.

“If you didn’t understand me, now you know what the other 16 percent of the community feels like,” Bravo said.

Rebecca Hinojosa was the third to address the group in Spanish, but not the only person to call the city’s decision not to spend the money on translating the rules racist.

“Everyone should be able to read about the impacts,” Hinojosa said.

About two dozen residents came to the final meeting of the city’s gas drilling task force, a five-member body that spent more than two months at the beginning of this year considering possible revisions to the city’s ordinance. Many of the residents spoke of their frustration with the process.

The task force handed off 40 recommendations to the city staff to use in rewriting the ordinance back in April. The first rewrite was released Oct. 2 and included about 30 changes. Another rewrite was released Friday and included more than 130 changes.

Task force member Vicki Oppenheim said she was pleased with the latest round of rewrites, but she also considered the revisions a living document and encouraged people to stay involved. The city Planning and Zoning Commission will take up the matter during its regular meeting Wednesday.

Hinojosa was among several people who also complained about the way the rewrites were written, the short time for the public to review and comment on the rewrites and the propensity of committees and city leaders to meet behind closed doors about the rewrites.

“This is why we’re upset,” Hinojosa said. “I would like to attend those closed meetings and learn the legal jargon and why I cannot understand this document.”

Residents Elma Walker and Cathy McMullen, both longtime advocates for better drilling and production rules, gave long lists of items that were still missing from the city’s rewrites. McMullen called for 1,500-foot setbacks between production sites and protected uses, such as homes. Walker asked whether the city was backing away from rules that would protect people in the city’s extra-territorial jurisdiction and encouraged them not to.

She and others were also concerned by a new addition to the rules that appeared to have been recommended by a consultant or staff member: a provision for operators to apply to the city for vested rights — something that could grant an operator the ability to drill under the old rules.

Resident Ricardo Correa asked the city to make regulations retroactive, saying it made no sense to think new production sites would be the polluters and the old wells were fine.

“Don’t leave common sense at the door,” Correa said.

Denton resident Ed Soph, a University of North Texas professor well known for his environmental work in the community, was the last to speak Monday night. Other comments showed that the city had a problem with transparency in the process, Soph said, and he knew that problem was also being hotly debated in the community.

But he told the task force it wasn’t they who created the problem with transparency, it was the city staff.

“You aren’t writing — the staff is writing,” Soph said. “We in the public need the opportunity to question the staff why, for example, there are no vapor recovery units, why there are no green completions.

“These are the people that are working behind closed doors. We have no access. Right now, the process is broken,” Soph said.

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