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Denton City Council repeals fracking ban

The Denton City Council on Tuesday repealed its controversial ban on hydraulic fracturing, saying a state law made it unenforceable. Protesters have been picketing a drilling site where one company resumed fracking earlier this month.
The Denton City Council on Tuesday repealed its controversial ban on hydraulic fracturing, saying a state law made it unenforceable. Protesters have been picketing a drilling site where one company resumed fracking earlier this month. Star-Telegram archives

Denton’s ban on hydraulic fracturing was passed with great fanfare in November, but early Wednesday morning the City Council was forced to take it off the books because of a new state law and pending lawsuits by the energy industry and the state.

The council voted 6-1 to repeal the ordinance, saying it had been rendered unenforceable by House Bill 40. The law, signed by Gov. Greg Abbott last month, prohibits cities from not only adopting such bans but limits their control over oil and gas drilling.

Denton Mayor Chris Watts said repealing the ban, which citizens approved seven months ago with 59 percent of the vote, was in the “best interest of the city.”

Calling it a strategic move, Watts said the council hopes it will reduce litigation costs and clear up misconceptions because the city has not been able to enforce the ban since HB40 was signed into law. The council discussed the issue for several hours before taking a vote.

“After listening to citizens’ input and the staff on what to do, it was in the long-term best interest of the city,” to repeal the ban, Watts said. He said it was regrettable that the ban had to be repealed because of steps taken by lawmakers in Austin.

“I think anytime that a vote of a community is nullified by some action that is disappointing,” Watts said. “We did it based on what we needed for the city.”

Denton has not been enforcing the ban, the first of its kind in Texas. Earlier this month, Vantage Energy began fracking at a well site northwest of downtown Denton. Eight protesters supporting the ban have been arrested at the site.

The repeal vote came a day after the Texas Oil and Gas Association and the state’s General Land office went back to court seeking to toss out not only the ban on hydraulic fracturing, but also a moratorium the city used to stop drilling while it reworked its overall drilling ordinance.

TXOGA and the land office sued Denton in November, the day after its citizens approved the ban on hydraulic fracturing. Their amended petitions filed Monday seek declaratory judgments tossing out the moratorium and the ban and an injunction to prevent city officials from enforcing them.

Both amended lawsuits contend that HB 40, passed during the recent legislative session, prohibits cities from halting development of natural gas reserves, even if only for a short time.

On Wednesday, TXOGA did not provide a comment about the ban being repealed, but in a prepared statement Tuesday about their lawsuit, the group’s President Todd Staples said: “We look forward to continuing to work with the city of Denton to bring this matter to a quick conclusion.”

Watts said the city’s legal team will look at their options following the repeal “to see where we’re going.”

The council put off repealing the ban two weeks ago even while admitting the ban is unenforceable.

At that meeting, Adam Briggle, president of the Denton Drilling Awareness Group, the grassroots organization that successfully campaigned for the ban, acknowledged repealing the law may be necessary.

Eventually, the council chose to repeal the ordinance.

“HB 40 is the law now in the State of Texas. Denton will comply with it so long as it remains valid,” a statement released by the council said.

Max B. Baker, 817-390-7714

Twitter: @MaxbakerBB

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