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Drilling rules to be reworked

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

Public hearing set for next week on rewrites

Denton City Council members have said little publicly about the latest rewrites to rules for natural gas development since adopting a moratorium on new permits earlier this year.

During the council’s work session Tuesday afternoon, City Attorney Anita Burgess called the latest drafts “complicated.” But neither the staff nor the council offered much more on what’s coming before taking their discussion over natural gas development into closed session.

Denton voters overwhelmingly passed a ban on hydraulic fracturing in November, but the city has nearly 300 gas wells inside its corporate limits that are still producing without using the well-stimulation technique. Council members have said that new rules should mitigate some of the problems those existing wells present.

In addition, the state and the oil and gas industry have challenged the city’s fracking ban on constitutional grounds. Council members have also said publicly that city rules needed to be strengthened, particularly if the ban is overturned.

A joint public hearing with the council and the Planning and Zoning Commission set for Tuesday will consider the latest rewrites.

On his blog, council member Kevin Roden said it was the city’s responsibility to fix the problems that have come with gas well development, regardless of whether the Texas Legislature addresses “vested rights” — claims by energy companies that they can drill under old rules if they hold old permits. He said he expected the city to release a draft of the new rules shortly.

“I’m confident we are discovering incredibly creative ways at tackling these very difficult issues,” Roden wrote.

In early May, hours before a “standstill agreement” was set to expire between the city and EagleRidge Energy, the City Council approved a moratorium on all new oil and gas drilling in the city.

EagleRidge is one of three energy companies that have drilled and fracked new gas wells in Denton since 2012, according to city records. After EagleRidge began drilling new wells close to homes in October 2013, the city sued and sought a temporary restraining order to enforce its latest ordinance, which does not allow new wells within 1,200 feet of a protected use, such as a home, church, school or public park.

EagleRidge argued its rights to drill and frack were vested years ago under old rules, and the judge refused to issue the restraining order. The city dropped the lawsuit and tried to negotiate with EagleRidge under the standstill agreement.

The current moratorium was adopted as part of the city’s zoning authority, which meant any company that wanted to drill would have to make a case to the Zoning Board of Adjustment. Only one company, Vantage of Colorado, has done so.

The moratorium was scheduled to end Sept. 9, but the council extended it until Jan. 6, anticipating it would take that long for the latest rewrites to be completed. City Manager George Campbell said the staff would prepare for the possibility that the moratorium could be extended again, should issues arise from the public hearing.

The staff is preparing for a large public turnout for Tuesday’s meeting, similar to the July 15 public hearing on the fracking ban, Campbell said.

Those who want to speak during the public hearing can sign up and receive a number so they can plan for their time to speak, Campbell said.

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

IF YOU GO

What: Public hearing on amendments to Denton’s gas well development ordinance

When: 6:30 p.m. Tuesday

Where: City Hall, 215 E. McKinney St.