Industry, elected officials and regulators threaten Denton in public hearing; City Council votes to reject frac ban; About 500 attended, fantastic presentations by the people

Texas could sue Denton if frack ban passes, Land Commissioner Patterson says by Nicholas Sakelaris, July 16, 2014, Dallas Business Journal
Texas Land Commissioner Jerry Patterson has warned the city of Denton to back off state-owned minerals with its proposed ban on hydraulic fracking.
Patterson wrote a letter to Denton Mayor Chris Watts warning that Texas would “pursue any available remedy to ensure the right to develop state-owned minerals.”

The Denton City Council voted unanimously just before 3 a.m. Wednesday to place the fracking ban on the Nov. 4 ballot.

The city is aware that if the fracking ban passes the city will be a target for lawsuits from oil and gas companies and mineral owners.

Now, it looks like the state of Texas could go after the city, too

“While we applaud the city’s efforts to promote the welfare of its citizens, we must make sure it is done in a manner consistent with existing state laws,” Patterson wrote. “The exercise of zoning and the authority of a city to exercise police powers is not a grant of absolute, unfettered power.” He goes on to say, “A legislative grant of police power to a city is not considered a surrender of the legislature’s right to regulate the state’s own property, which may be located within a city.”

Oil and gas regulations falls under the Texas Railroad Commission and Texas Commission on Environmental Quality.

Patterson lost his bid for the GOP nomination for Attorney General earlier this year and his term as land commissioner ends in January. [Emphasis added]

Council Nixes Fracking Ban in Denton, TX by Joe Fisher, July 16, 2014, Natural Gas Intel
During eight hours of testimony, council members were told by oil and gas industry representatives that a ban would cost the city millions of dollars in lost tax revenue, economic activity and legal fees to defend against challenges by industry and mineral owners.

State lawmakers warned that the city lacks authority to usurp private mineral rights via a ban on fracking.

And dozens of residents — many wearing “Frack-Free Denton” T-shirts — lamented noise and air pollution, as well as illnesses blamed on drilling and fracking activities. They said their complaints to state regulators have fallen on deaf ears.

As many had expected, the seven-member council voted 5-2 against a ban. Council members were sympathetic to the frustrations of the anti-frackers but wary of overstepping their municipal regulatory role in the country’s leading energy state, where the law says mineral rights trump surface rights (see Shale Daily, July 14).

Had things gone the other way, Denton would have become the first city in Texas to ban fracking within its boundaries and the first in the country to ban it after having issued drilling permits. Late last month, the New York State Court of Appeals ruled in favor of the towns of Dryden and Middlefield, two municipalities in the state’s Southern Tier region atop the Marcellus Shale that banned oil and gas activities (see Shale Daily, June 30).

The vote in Denton was the culmination of a petition drive by citizens that garnered nearly 2,000 signatures. Tuesday’s meeting drew more than 500 attendees, necessitating the use of two overflow rooms at City Hall and space at a building across the street.

First to speak on the initiative were area businessmen Bobby Jones and Randy Sorrels, representing Denton Taxpayers for a Strong Economy…. Jones and Sorrels warned that the city would be on the hook for “millions of dollars” in litigation costs as well as millions more to reimburse mineral owners for infringement on their property rights should a ban be adopted. …

University of North Texas professor Adam Briggle told the council that he became an anti-fracker only after being thwarted in attempts with other citizens to rein in drilling around schools and residential areas. During a slide presentation he asserted that the vast majority of mineral wealth in Denton is owned by outsiders and leaves the community. “Fracking is a drag on our economy,” he said.

Baker Botts lawyer Tom Phillips, representing the Texas Oil & Gas Association (TXOGA) said, “some members of TXOGA will undoubtedly sue the city if this ordinance becomes effective.”

Many residents in the town 40 miles northwest of Dallas are angry about the nearness of some wells to residential areas. Eagleridge Energy affiliate Eagleridge Operating has been re-drilling old vertical underperforming shallow wells, drilling them deeper and horizontally and targeting the Barnett Shale under legacy permits that predate the city’s latest drilling ordinance. While the wells were lying dormant, housing developments went up next to them (see Shale Daily, April 10). The city tried to stop the drilling with a restraining order but was thwarted in court.

During their separate testimony, both State Sen. Craig Estes (R-Wichita Falls) and State Rep. Myra Crownover (R-Denton) alluded to “compliance problems” with the city’s drilling ordinance and “bad actors” among operators. They pledged to work on legislation to address the issue but said a local fracking ban wouldn’t stand up to state law and could cost the city millions. [What good does the law do when companies ignore it and regulators ignore companies violating the law?]

“Mineral rights are the dominant estate,” Crownover said. “You may not like that law, but that’s the law, and we have to deal with that…The whole economy of the state of Texas is based on that.” [Emphasis added]

Warnings galore, frack ban goes to voters in Denton by Star Telegram, July 16, 2014
Powerful voices have told the people of Denton that what some of them want to do is “unwise,” even “extremely misguided,” and could bring high costs in terms of lost economic activity, jobs and legal fees.

That might be true, but the people who are pushing a ban on oil and gas drilling that uses the technique called hydraulic fracturing, or “fracking,” are exercising their democratic rights. They gathered enough signatures on a petition required to bring the issue to the City Council, and the council has sent it on voters in a November election. Approval would make Denton the first Texas city to ban fracking.

Amid the warnings was one from Barry Smitherman, chairman of the Texas Railroad Commission, the state agency that regulates oil and gas drilling. Smitherman called the proposal “essentially a ban on drilling.” And if other cities follow Denton’s lead, Smitherman wrote in a letter to Denton officials, “we could potentially, one day, see a ban on drilling in Texas.” That’s saying the democratic process breaking out in Denton could spread to other cities and become a statewide phenomenon. Oh, my.

In fact, the impact in Denton may not be as bad as some say. As Councilman Kevin Roden told Star-Telegram writer Max B. Baker, the 275 active gas wells in the city and 212 more in Denton’s extraterritorial jurisdiction mean that much of the drilling there has already taken place.

But the action by proponents of the ban is highly symbolic. The people of Denton can expect a very powerful campaign against the ban before the November election. Voters can decide for themselves how this should go. [Emphasis added]

2014 07 15 Denton Public Hearing 5 min clip

8 hours of the hearing boiled down to 5 min by Citizen Media for We The People

Denton Frac Ban Council Meeting and public hearing was Livestreamed

2014 07 15 livestream city of denton

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