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Suits against city being dismissed

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

Oil and gas group reserves right to sue Denton over any future rules

One loose end remains in a pair of lawsuits filed against Denton’s short-lived ban on hydraulic fracturing.

Both the Texas Oil and Gas Association and the Texas General Land Office submitted, together with the city of Denton, joint motions for dismissal of the cases last week. Judge Sherry Shipman, of the 16th District Court, signed a dismissal order in the association’s case Sept. 4. Court records show a dismissal order has been prepared for Judge Bruce McFarling, of the 362nd District Court, for the state’s case on Friday.

City officials said they expect it to be signed soon.

City leaders maintained they had to both repeal the ban and allow a long-standing moratorium on new drilling permits to expire in order for the lawsuits to become moot. A statement from the city manager’s office late Thursday said Denton was pleased to see an end to the litigation.

According to the dismissal order signed in the industry’s case, both the city and the Texas Oil and Gas Association will pay their own legal costs.

The association also reserved the right to sue Denton again over any local rules it might adopt for industry operators in the future.

In a prepared statement, association president Todd Staples welcomed the end of litigation, saying domestic energy production is important to national security.

“The oil and natural gas industry looks forward to continuing to responsibly partner with our fellow Texans as we grow our economy and protect our environment,” he wrote. “Strict rules such as requiring multiple layers of cement and steel for well casing, along with air monitoring, are working to ensure we are protecting our water and air.”

Both city officials and some local activists hinted during public hearings that settlement talks were contentious. The Denton Drilling Advisory Group and Earthworks joined the lawsuit briefly, serving as co-defendants alongside the city. Both stepped away from the case after the Texas Legislature passed House Bill 40 in May.

HB 40 effectively nullified Denton’s ban and greatly restricted the ability of cities and other local governments to write local rules for the oil and gas industry.

The city’s legal moves remain controversial among some local activists who claim the City Council should not have repealed the ban and instead should have allowed the popular citizens’ initiative to be challenged in court.

The Denton Drilling Advisory Group, which campaigned for the ban, called its repeal “tragic in many ways.”

“However, it has brought us to this point and we, and many others in the state, continue the struggle to repeal HB 40, a law that still has no legitimizing legal precedent,” the group said in a prepared statement.

Sharon Wilson, the Texas organizer for Earthworks, was among those who said the city was backed into a corner by HB 40.

“This should remind all Texans that until we convince state legislators to represent the majority of Texans who want to restore local oversight of oil and gas development, the public interest will continue to take a back seat to industry profits,” Wilson said.

 

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