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City to outline changes to drilling rules

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

City leaders plan several tough amendments to the rules that govern natural gas drilling and production in the city and its extraterritorial jurisdiction by the time its moratorium on new permits expires in January.

During meetings scheduled Monday and Tuesday, the public can learn more and give feedback on those amendments, which should push operators into limiting their claims to large swaths of land on Denton’s west side. The amendments also require more stringent monitoring of production equipment, heftier insurance coverage and better disclosure of energy operations to people who buy homes nearby.

In an interview Friday, Denton City Council member Kevin Roden said the amendments should ultimately help bring more certainty to the city’s efforts to protect public health, safety and welfare.

“We feel like we’ve got this in a pretty good legal situation,” Roden said.

Denton tried to enforce tough new rules drafted in 2012 and finally adopted in 2013, but the city was thwarted by operators who held old permits to drill and frack in new neighborhoods.

In response, Denton voters overwhelmingly passed a ban on hydraulic fracturing in November. Both the state and the oil and gas industry have challenged the ban in court on constitutional grounds.

Moreover, the city has nearly 300 gas wells inside its corporate limits that are still producing. The ban does not affect those wells unless the operator wants to frack them again.

City leaders agreed that the rules needed strengthening and adopted the moratorium on new permits in May. The amendments deal not only with the nuisances presented by the existing wells but also any court or legislative challenges for those who want to drill and frack in the future.

Roden said the city wants legislation that prevents energy companies from making the kinds of “vested rights” claims they make now — that they can drill and frack under older, more lax city rules. But the City Council is amending the local rules regardless of whether it gets that legislative fix and whether the ban survives court challenges, he said.

Monday’s public meeting is planned as a briefing on the amendments. Council member John Ryan typically holds a town hall-style meeting once a month — usually at North Branch Library — to give his constituents a chance to get more in-depth information about a current issue or share a concern. He has moved this month’s meeting to City Hall and will get help from Darren Groth, head of the city’s gas well inspection division, with a presentation on the amendments.

Ryan represents District 2, but the briefing is open to the public.

People will be able to ask questions of either the elected officials or city staff, in order to better prepare for Tuesday’s public hearing, Ryan said.

Tuesday’s meeting is planned as a joint public hearing with both the Planning and Zoning Commission and the City Council taking public testimony.

The City Council will adjourn after the public hearing, but the Planning and Zoning Commission is expected to deliberate on its recommendations to the council after the public hearing is closed, City Manager George Campbell said.

The moratorium expires Jan. 6, the day the City Council is expected to vote on the amendments.

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

Members of the public planning to attend either meeting can read more about the revisions, including links to a full bibliography of scientific papers supporting the amendments, on the city’s website, www.cityofdenton.com.

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