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Groups file to join city in courtroom

Profile image for By Peggy Heinkel-Wolfe
By Peggy Heinkel-Wolfe

Anti-fracking activists petition to join suits over Denton’s ban

Local activists and a national advocacy group filed motions in court Thursday to join the city of Denton in defending its ban on hydraulic fracturing.

Attorneys for the Denton Drilling Advisory Group and Earthworks prepared petitions in intervention for lawsuits filed by the state and the oil and gas industry, which are challenging the ban’s constitutionality.

Cathy McMullen, president of the Denton Drilling Advisory Group, said the organization felt a sense of responsibility to see its work through.

“A lot of people asked us, ‘If the ban passes, then what?’” McMullen said. “We knew we wanted to make sure their voices would be heard and that the ban would be enforced.”

She called the effort a marathon.

“I wasn’t going to quit at the 20-mile mark,” McMullen said.

The Denton Drilling Advisory Group incorporated about a year ago as an educational nonprofit. It sought help in drafting the original petition to ban fracking, which was an initiative under the city’s charter. The group worked for months to gather the signatures needed to force the City Council vote in July and then organize the campaign to get the measure passed in November.

The ban on fracking passed overwhelmingly on Election Day, with 59 percent of Denton voters approving the proposition.

The ban officially went into effect Tuesday.

All those actions by the Denton group, and the support from Washington-based nonprofit Earthworks, became the grounds for the petition in intervention, according to court documents.

Lindsey Baker, spokeswoman for the city of Denton, said the city’s legal team has agreed to the petition.

In court documents, Earthworks said it worked closely with the Denton Drilling Advisory Group, not only in helping with the petition drive but also with the the election campaign.

As a result, both groups “would be seriously prejudiced by a judgment for [the] Plaintiff[s],” attorneys wrote.

The two groups retained their own legal counsel, which included Richardson-based municipal law firm Brown & Hofmeister, as well as two nationally renowned environmental attorneys, Deborah Goldberg with Earthjustice and Daniel Raichel with the National Resources Defense Council.

Goldberg recently represented the town of Dryden in a similar case in New York. This summer, that state’s highest court sided with the town, which allowed towns and cities throughout New York to prohibit oil and gas development within their borders.

Court documents showed that both Goldberg, who is licensed in New York, and Raichel, who is licensed in Illinois, had completed applications with the Texas Bar of Law Examiners to represent the Denton group and Earthworks in the two cases.

According to the examiners’ website, if an attorney has practiced for more than five years, then the court where the case is being tried may admit them.

In addition to asking to intervene, the Denton Drilling Advisory Group and Earthworks also asked the Travis County court, where the state’s case was filed, to agree to move that case to Denton County.

Speaking on behalf of the Texas General Land Office, which filed suit in November, Jim Suydam declined to comment on either the change of venue or the intervention petition, citing ongoing litigation.

However, he expected the state would answer the motions in court.

Bill Kroger, attorney of record for the Texas Oil and Gas Association, which also filed suit in November, did not return a call for comment.

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