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City gas rules topic of concern

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

Residents present input on drilling ordinance rewrites to City Council

Frustrated residents brought another hour of earnest testimony to a public hearing on the gas ordinance rewrites this week.

As part of the regular Denton City Council meeting Tuesday night, the feedback came after the Planning and Zoning Commission had approved the staff’s third draft of rewrites, but with a condition that the council continue rewriting rules to reflect residents’ concerns.

The residents handed the City Council a list of more than 200 people who claimed they have been harmed by hydraulic fracturing compiled by the Pennsylvania Alliance for Clean Air and Water, lists of cities nationwide that have banned fracking, a count of the time city consultants spent reviewing environmental rules requested by residents (less than 5 percent compared to the time consultants spent on vested rights), and their own rewrites.

Devon Energy representative Gilbert Horton also reminded the council that he brought a brief review of the rewrites and noted the city’s progress with its legal advisors in recognizing issues of pre-emption.

But he called other provisions in the ordinance burdensome and reminded the council that his company has been working safely in the area for a decade now. Devon has between 5,000 and 6,000 of the 18,000 wells in the Barnett Shale, according to Horton.

“The industry has shown that this can be done safely well within the 1,000-foot setback,” Horton said. “The nuisances can be mitigated.”

“We recommend the 1,000-foot setback be reduced,” Horton added.

Rhonda Love reminded the council that a year ago, she and others provided it with a report on emerging research into the health impacts of fracking, where operators mix chemicals with sand and water to free natural gas from shale.

Her group has continued to follow the research in the past year, she said.

“It doesn’t get any better — the newest study shows hydrocarbons found at sites that have a direct impact on brain development,” Love said.

She was referring to a peer-reviewed study, published this month in Human and Ecological Risk Assessment, which found more than 50 non-methane hydrocarbons near gas wells in Colorado.

The researchers said venting raw gas and other emissions from production equipment were the likely source of the chemicals.

Some chemicals were detected at levels high enough to affect the growth and development of unborn children.

Batavia Russell, a day care worker who lives in the Denia neighborhood, told the council that she has become concerned about the health of the young children she cares for and wonders whether the pollution from shale gas production is to blame.

“Never in my life have I seen this many under-2s with breathing treatments,” Russell said.

She said she was holding an infant recently, a 7-week-old on a nebulizer, when the little girl stopped breathing.

“It is impossible to describe the experience,” she said, adding, “So, when a CEO tells you they won’t do it because it’s not cost-effective, I want you to remember that little girl, and how much is that worth?”

The City Council approved an ordinance that establishes a procedure for property owners to claim vested rights that is more in line with state law. The ordinance gives the city manager the authority to make a determination of vested rights.

For oil and gas operators, vested rights could come with the ability to drill and produce natural gas under the city’s old rules.

The council is expected to consider the rest of the rewrites Dec. 18.

The council will have the full range of options that night, the city staff has said.

In other words, council members could extend a nearly year-old moratorium on new drilling and production permits, or they could push through more rewrites and approve a final document before the holidays, or they could simply adopt what was presented to and approved by Planning and Zoning.

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