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Council reaches deal with company

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

EagleRidge to continue working 12 wells for two months while sides talk

The Denton City Council ceded some territory in its battle with EagleRidge Energy on Friday night in exchange for a “standstill agreement.”

In a rare split vote, the council approved the agreement 5-2 in a special session to allow EagleRidge to continue working 12 wells on pad sites between South Bonnie Brae Street and U.S. Highway 377 as the city and the company continue talks for the next two months. Council members Dalton Gregory and Jim Engelbrecht voted against the measure.

In the agreement, EagleRidge also reserved its rights at the Pitner gas well site on Ryan Road, which has sparked a related controversy. A housing developer wants to build around that well site and the City Council has refused him a zoning change. But EagleRidge withdrew its request for access to city property in order to run a water line to gas wells it will soon hydraulically fracture in the neighborhood near Vintage Boulevard and Bonnie Brae Street.

A dispute between the city and EagleRidge erupted a month ago when the city sued the company, claiming that it was drilling in violation of city ordinances. EagleRidge has stated in letters to the city that its rights to develop the gas were vested under the original permits. A district judge appeared to side with EagleRidge by refusing to grant the city a temporary injunction to stop the drilling, and the city subsequently dropped the lawsuit.

The agreement doesn’t meet the call residents from the Vintage neighborhoods made this week to revoke the company’s old permits for drilling and to reinstate a moratorium. Some residents waited again Friday outside the council’s closed session for two hours to demand protection for their neighborhood. One mother said they could no longer enjoy their backyard, likening it to setting up a lawn chair on the freeway. Another father said the drilling has aggravated his daughter’s respiratory problems.

Mayor Mark Burroughs said the agreement was needed because EagleRidge was set to drill more than 90 wells inside the city and that the city needed to have the negotiations to preserve what little protections it has in place.

But council member Jim Engelbrecht, whose district includes the Vintage neighborhoods, disagreed, saying that energy companies “used to operate in the back 40 and now they have chosen to come into neighborhoods.”

“The residents there are inclined to let the courts decide, and I tend to agree with them,” Engelbrecht said.

Council member James King, who worked with fellow council member Kevin Roden on the standstill agreement, tried to remind residents in the room that the oil and gas industry has long held sway in Texas. He said he wasn’t certain the talks would deliver on what the city wanted, but he felt it was the best course of action “before we go to a scorched-earth mentality.”

PEGGY HEINKEL-WOLFE can be reached at 940-566-6881 and via Twitter at @phwolfeDRC.