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David Minton

More time for drilling changes

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

Public hearing on rule amendments will be continued next month

About 30 people turned out for a public hearing Tuesday night, giving about an hour of testimony on the city’s innovative amendments to the gas well ordinance and asking for more time to review it.

The public hearing was convened jointly between the Denton Planning and Zoning Commission and the City Council and was preceded by a presentation that was frequently interrupted by questions from both bodies, lasting about 90 minutes.

The city unveiled this week an innovative 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.

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.

Concerned residents and industry representatives both asked that the city allow more time for feedback on the amendments.

Ed Ireland, of the industry-funded Barnett Shale Energy Education Council, said the city’s co-location program has been used with mixed results in the Marcellus Shale area in Pennsylvania, but has not ever been tried in Texas.

“We are asking for more time to do an analysis,” Ireland said, adding that he thought it would take at least 90 days.

Several members of the Denton Drilling Advisory Group, as well as other residents, told the council and commission that they wanted other additions to the ordinance, too.

Cathy McMullen told both bodies that those additional items could become especially important if Denton’s ban on fracking doesn’t survive in court.

The amendments the city is considering now do not affect the fracking ban, which went into effect Dec. 2 after being passed on Election Day. Rather, the amendments address problems with existing wells.

Ed Soph reminded the council that it had the list of additional rules people have wanted for a long time, and still weren’t part of the ordinance: prohibiting venting, flaring, open pits, lift compressors and compressor stations; requiring vapor recovery units; and monitoring air, water and soil quality.

Adam Briggle said the co-location program would be a big improvement, but that he didn’t believe it would address all the problems presented by reverse setbacks.

Under the current reverse setbacks, home developers are allowed to build up to within 250 feet of existing wells, much closer than new wells can come to existing homes — 1,200 feet.

Both bodies wrestled with time constraints brought by the current moratorium on new drilling permits, which ends Jan. 20. Because of notification requirements, the council must take action on the amendments by Jan. 6 or prepare to extend the moratorium again.

The council voted to continue its public hearing to Jan. 6 and gave the city staff a list of questions to investigate.

The Planning and Zoning Commission closed its public hearing so that it could begin deliberations, with it, too, giving the city staff a list of questions that needed further investigation. It also voted to consider its recommendations to the City Council about the amendments during its regular meeting Jan. 7, likely triggering the need for the moratorium to be extended.

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

IN OTHER ACTION

During its regular meeting Tuesday, the Denton City Council also:

• Authorized the hire of three new police officers provided for in the budget.

• Agreed to provide five electronic ticket writers to Texas Woman’s University police to assist with traffic and parking enforcement.

• Awarded a contract with Interfaith Ministries for utility assistance to low-income residents, for up to $100,000 per year.

• Amended a contract with Falcon Steel Co. for another $415,000 for materials needed to build electric substations.

• Authorized the city manager to offer $1.5 million for property needed to relocate the Hickory Street substation.

• Awarded a contract for infrastructure improvements to the McKinney Street substation to Nu-Way Construction for $184,506.

• Adopted its legislative program for the 84th Texas Legislature.

• Approved a pro rata reimbursement agreement with Peck Construction to reimburse the costs of building a sewer main.