A petition asking for a new ordinance banning hydraulic fracture drilling was scheduled to be received by the Denton City Council Tuesday.
The petition, which was already verified by the City Secretary, was gathered by a citizens’ group, the Denton Drilling Awareness Group, and asks for an all-out ban to the gas well drilling method in the city limits.
The group told NBC 5 that past problems with drillers in town spurred the movement. The most recent: drilling occurring last fall within 250 feet of homes in the Vintage neighborhood by operator Eagle Ridge Energy.
Group leaders said after city ordinance failed to stop the operator that an all-out ban was the only solution.
However a North Texas expert on drilling cautions Denton on taking the bold step.
Mark Plummer is CEO and founder of Richardson-based Chestnut Explorations, which is a drilling company that conducts hydraulic fracturing mostly south of Ft. Worth.
While Plummer said he doesn’t have any business interest in the Denton area, he has been watching the situation closely as a long-time expert in fracking and chemical engineering.
He calls the situation an unfortunate one saying in an online blog:
“Unfortunately, one bad apple can spoil the whole barrel. In this case, the oil industry shouldn’t be stained by one company that did not follow safety guidelines and whose negligence could have potentially hurt people.”
Plummer spoke to NBC 5 and said he stands by fracking as a safe and evolving method of drilling that has been around since the 1880s when companies would throw dynamite into the ground to fracture out oil.
"It's possible to have safe fracking underneath the ground,” said Plummer. "Both protect the environment and provide a good clean energy source for America."
However, he said in a situation like Denton’s where the oil is so close to homes and citizens, industry leaders have to keep everything running right.
"It's quite a balancing act between balancing peoples' rights on the surface vs. peoples' rights on the minerals,” said Plummer. "People want cheap, reliable, natural gas to fuel electricity but they don't want it close to their house, so it's a balancing act."
In the case of many of the Denton wells the Drilling Awareness Group said mineral rights don’t often lie with the people living next to the wells - that’s the case in the Vintage neighborhood.
Plummer believes a strong and enforced city ordinance is the answer to keeping the peace, and currently the Denton City Council has a moratorium on drilling while they try to work one out.
However Plummer cautions about the risks of an all-out ban.
"If the city bans it there's certain things the city also gives up which is the tax base associated with those wells producing natural gas,” he said.
He adds benefits like jobs and of course the income of the mineral owners would also be lost. He expects a ban would be ultimately met with appeal, but he said it’s ultimately up to the people of Denton to decide what is best in their backyard.
The Denton City Council now has 60 days to hold public hearings on the matter. They must then either vote in a ban on fracking or vote against it and send the issue to voters on the November ballot.
The Denton Drilling Awareness Group said they expect it will go to the people to decide and are already preparing a political campaign.