Denton City Council reinstates moratorium on new drilling permits

05/07/2014 6:00 AM

05/07/2014 8:27 AM

The Denton City Council voted Tuesday night to reinstate a moratorium until Sept. 9 on new drilling and hydraulic fracturing permits, a move that came just a day before opponents planned to present their petition for an outright ban on fracking within city limits.

The 7-0 vote in favor of the moratorium was intended to give the city time to review and possibly change its drilling ordinance, city spokeswoman Lindsey Baker said. The city had previously imposed moratoriums in 2012 and 2013 as it overhauled the drilling ordinance that took effect last year.

The council could also vote to extend the latest moratorium when the time comes, Baker said.

Today, members of the Denton Drilling Awareness Group are scheduled to deliver about 130 pages of their petition bearing 1,871 signatures in support of the ban, President Cathy McMullen said. The city has 20 days to verify the signatures.

Baker said 596 verified signatures are needed to certify the petition — 25 percent of the 2,385 votes cast in its most recent municipal election. The council then has 60 days to hold a public hearing and vote on the measure, which, if rejected, would go on the ballot in November.

Were the measure to pass, Denton would become the first Texas city to ban fracking, the energy production technique that pumps millions of gallons of water, sand and chemicals deep underground to fracture rock and release oil and gas. Its widespread use has greatly boosted domestic oil and gas production but also sparked controversy and growing opposition amid environmental concerns, including moratoriums in New York state and several cities in Colorado and California.

McMullen said the Drilling Awareness Group launched its petition drive in January after she and other residents grew frustrated with drilling and fracking near homes. While the city established a 1,200-foot setback from residences, schools and parks last year, a provision allows drilling within 250 feet at a previously permitted well site, she said.

“That’s our problem in Denton,” McMullen said.

According to the city’s website, scores of wells were permitted and drilled after 2001 but before the city enacted more-restrictive drilling ordinances.

Denton has 275 wells within the city and an additional 212 within its extraterritorial jurisdiction, according to the city’s website. The proposal would not affect existing wells.

While the city had lifted its previous moratoriums, Baker said the city has an existing standstill agreement, in effect since November 2013, with Dallas-based EagleRidge Energy Llc., which used a 2002 permit to drill new wells. The city sued EagleRidge over the matter last year but withdrew its suit less than a week later after a closed-door session with attorneys.

EagleRidge officials did not return a phone call Tuesday seeking comment.

McMullen said that in less than a year, residents have filed 73 complaints against EagleRidge operations.

Baker said nearly all the complaints were about noise, while complaints about odors and other emissions were referred to the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality. Baker said EagleRidge was not found to be out of compliance with noise regulations during any of the city’s inspections.

The environmental commission’s database lists 98 complaints against EagleRidge, nearly all in Denton County, dating to 2012. The vast majority concern the company’s Bonnie Brae pad site, which includes the contested wells. The agency lists no administrative orders or pending enforcement actions against the company.

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