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Meeting explores drilling changes

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

City unveils details on 2 proposed programs

Questions from the audience Monday night focused primarily on two new programs the city has proposed in amending its gas well ordinance, beefed-up inspections and “co-locations” for pad sites.

The city unveiled details in a formal presentation for the crowd, including its plan to have energy companies select a single location for the gas wells they want to operate. The “co-location” program allows the city to review an energy company’s application to drill by pulling together all contiguous leases, selecting a single location for multiple, horizontal wells, and releasing the rest of the land for other development.

It was the first substantive public discussion of the amendments since the Denton City Council adopted a moratorium on new drilling permits in May to work on them.

The city is also planning amendments to increase insurance coverage requirements of operators, improve disclosure of existing gas well locations to people buying homes and property in Denton, and hire an independent firm to conduct additional equipment inspections.

Before the city’s gas well inspector, Darren Groth, gave a detailed presentation on the proposed changes, City Attorney Anita Burgess cautioned the crowd that the staff and elected officials present — Mayor Chris Watts and council members Kevin Roden and John Ryan — wouldn’t be able to talk much about current litigation.

Denton has banned fracking. Both the state and the oil and gas industry have challenged the ban in court on constitutional grounds.

The proposed amendments don’t affect the fracking ban; rather, they address problems with existing wells, Burgess said.

“This city is sacred ground for the citizens of Denton,” Burgess said.

A landowner and an industry representative expressed concern the co-location program could create unintended consequences.

Betty Farmer said that, although she was in the city’s extraterritorial jurisdiction, she wanted some assurance that the city’s regulations wouldn’t affect the gas wells on her land. She said she depends on the royalty income for support for her and her husband, who is ill.

While the city has limited authority in its extraterritorial jurisdiction, should an operator wanting to drill and frack in the ETJ have contiguous leases inside the city, that could trigger a co-location review, Groth said.

Ed Ireland, of the industry-funded Barnett Shale Energy Education Council, said he was concerned that such a requirement could harm landowners. Some landowners are willing to have pad sites because they can be paid extra for the surface use, he said.

Ireland was concerned that a consolidation might penalize that landowner if the pad site went elsewhere, or was forced on a landowner who was not willing.

Other audience members asked for more information about the city’s new inspection program.

The city plans additional inspections by an outside firm with the expertise and equipment that can evaluate an operator’s equipment beyond what a typical inspector can see and hear, Groth said.

The program would be paid for by the energy companies. The frequency of inspections would depend on their proximity to protected uses, with those well sites that are closer to homes and businesses inspected quarterly.

The city’s independent inspectors won’t be measuring the air for emissions. Instead, the inspectors will make sure that the equipment is functioning properly, which typically helps keep fugitive emissions to a minimum.

In addition, the inspectors will be reporting their findings to the city, Roden told the crowd.

“We will get data that the city needs,” Roden said, adding that he expected the information would help the city evaluate what’s happening and make additional changes as needed.

Ryan organized the meeting as part of his monthly town-hall-style meetings to help concerned residents prepare for tonight’s joint public hearing.

Beginning at 6:30 p.m. today at City Hall, the City Council and the Planning and Zoning Commission will take testimony on the amendments.

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.

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

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

Read more about the amendments, 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.