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Ban on hydraulic fracturing repealed

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

Denton’s seven-month-old ban on hydraulic fracturing fell early Wednesday morning in what city leaders dubbed a “strategic repeal.”

The City Council voted 6-1 to pull down the citizens initiative after three hours of public testimony and deliberations late Tuesday night. In moving to repeal the ban, council member Greg Johnson called the option the least of three bad choices in two lawsuits against the city. He urged fellow members to join him, saying that it was too risky to consider the matter much longer.

“We need to let go of the rope,” Johnson said.

In seconding the motion, council member Kevin Roden called for a work session to draft a plan responding to House Bill 40 in line with the city’s values. The Texas Legislature passed HB 40 to block Denton’s ban and to limit local governments from regulating oil and gas production in their jurisdictions.

Council member Keely Briggs opposed the motion in the final vote but volunteered to visit affected communities and build a coalition to defeat the unprecedented new law.

That suggestion came from Tara Linn Hunter, one of the local activists who campaigned for the ban. Hunter was among many community members who testified against repealing the ban but said they understood the city was in a difficult position.

She urged the council to call the repeal “strategic,” saying many people in the community who voted for the ban wouldn’t understand what the city was doing.

Rodney Love, one of the residents arrested while protesting the return of fracking in far west Denton, told the council he was one of those people.

“I don’t understand what’s going on in all these lawyer meetings,” Love said.

The Texas General Land Office and the Texas Oil and Gas Association amended their lawsuits against Denton’s ban late Monday. They both cited HB 40 as a basis to overturn the ban and strike down the city’s moratorium on new drilling permits.

A footnote in the industry’s latest filings said the group could ask for attorneys’ fees. The Denton Drilling Advisory Group, as well as the national nonprofit advocacy group, Earthworks, stand with the city as co-defendants in the lawsuit.

In an eloquent statement that began with the story of the Alamo and the Texans’ ultimate defeat of Gen. Santa Anna, Adam Briggle, president of DAG, told the council that there was a difference between being courageous and reckless. DAG agreed with the city’s temporary retreat, he said.

“In HB 40, they have sown the seeds of their own demise,” Briggle said.

One resident disagreed. Gene Price was a lone voice Tuesday night, saying activists shouldn’t involve the city.

“I voted against the ban,” Price said.

During a 30-minute break in the council’s deliberations, a few council members worked with City Attorney Anita Burgess to draft the final resolution incorporating community input.

At the council’s urging, the city also released a statement after the vote. The statement said that HB 40 stopped the city from enforcing the ban. The statement also said the city wanted to end the current lawsuits and the City Council would be “looking to the long-term interests of the city by balancing all concerns.”

Before calling the vote to repeal, Mayor Chris Watts said he believed fighting HB 40 was the most difficult issue the city has ever faced. He urged the community to stay united as the city moved forward with clear, concise legal goals.

“I think we have all the same interests at heart,” Watts said.

Some residents who also make up the local chapter of Rising Tide, an international coalition of climate change activists, told the council that repealing the ban wouldn’t change their plans for direct action against HB 40.

After repealing the ban, the City Council agreed with a staff recommendation to remand the city’s drilling ordinance to the Planning and Zoning Commission for additional work.

The city has a moratorium on new permits until Aug. 18 to complete that work.

City leaders have been working on an innovative program to reduce the number of well sites on the city’s west side and free up land for other kinds of development.

The moratorium has been extended more than once at the request of industry members concerned about the new program.

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

INITIATIVE REPEAL

Below is the final language the City Council approved to immediately repeal Denton’s ban on fracking:

AN ORDINANCE OF THE CITY OF DENTON, TEXAS AMENDING INITIATIVE ORDINANCE NO. 2014-01, “PROHIBITION OF HYDRAULIC FRACTURING”, FOR THE PURPOSE OF REPEALING SAME; AND PROVIDING FOR AN IMMEDIATE EFFECTIVE DATE.

WHEREAS, on November 4, 2014, the citizens of Denton, Texas voted in favor of prohibiting hydraulic fracturing within the City of Denton, Texas, which prohibition was codified as Initiative Ordinance 2014-01, “Prohibition of Hydraulic Fracturing”; and

WHEREAS, the Denton City Council respects and has defended the initiative of the voters of Denton and applauds the sustained efforts of our citizens to retain and protect local control; and

WHEREAS, the 84th Legislature enacted House Bill 40, which bill took immediate effect on May 18, 2015, and which bill prohibits cities, among other things, from adopting or enforcing hydraulic fracturing bans, and thereby nullifies Initiative Ordinance 2014-01 and further nullifies the citizens’ vote to enact the hydraulic fracturing ban; and

WHEREAS, the Denton City Council reluctantly deems it in the best interest of the citizens of this City to strategically repeal Initiative Ordinance 2014-01; and

WHEREAS, this ordinance amends Initiative Ordinance 2014-01 by repealing it in its entirety;

NOW THEREFORE, THE COUNCIL OF THE CITY OF DENTON HEREBY ORDAINS:

SECTION 1. This ordinance amends Initiative Ordinance No. 2014-01 by repealing it in its entirety.

SECTION 2. This ordinance shall become effective immediately upon its passage.

Source: City of Denton