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Fracking petition validated, headed to City Council

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

Group tops goal

A petition to force a vote on whether to ban hydraulic fracturing in the Denton city limits has been validated, meaning the City Council must either approve a ban or let voters decide the issue.

City Secretary Jennifer Walters confirmed Tuesday that she had validated 610 signatures, more than the 596 needed to bring the matter up for discussion before the City Council at its next regular meeting. For a local petition to qualify under the city charter, circulators must gather signatures from enough local registered voters to equal 25 percent of those who voted in the last local election.

Denton resident Cathy McMullen, who helped circulate the petition, said members of the Denton Drilling Awareness Group worked hard and did their best to make sure they didn’t do anything that would cause the petition to be rejected on a technicality.

“I’m so excited,” McMullen said.

Denton’s new Mayor Chris Watts said that, although he hadn’t heard, the news didn’t surprise him.

“Based on what I heard during the campaign, and the news reports, I figured they had enough signatures,” Watts said.

McMullen and other volunteers launched the initiative petition in February. Under the charter, they had six months, or until August, to gather what they needed to force the City Council to consider a fracking ban. But, earlier this month, they delivered nearly 2,000 signatures.

About 8.5 percent of the city’s registered voters, or a total of 5,167 people, cast ballots in the most recent election, more than twice the number that voted in last year’s municipal election.

Walters said she expected to deliver the petition and her report to the council Tuesday. The City Council has 60 days to take final action on the petition, after holding at least one public hearing.

The council must then either accept or deny the ordinance that was part of the initiative petition, Watts said. If the City Council denies the ordinance, the matter would go to the voters, likely in November.

If voters approve the ban, it would be the first of its kind in Texas but not in the nation. More than 170 communities in New York have enacted fracking bans, as have cities in other states.

Earlier this month, the City Council enacted a moratorium on new applications for gas well permits or amendments to current permits. The moratorium is in place until midnight Sept. 9 and could be renewed, as the city did with a previous moratorium through much of 2011 and 2012.

Council members said they needed the moratorium in order to make changes to the current ordinance, which allows homebuilders to build within 250 feet of an existing well.

That exception to the city’s 1,200-foot setback for homes, schools, businesses and other protected uses has come under fire as operators returned in recent years to old wells for redrilling and fracking.

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