With the petition now verified, the future of hydraulic fracturing drilling (fracking) now heads to next Tuesday’s Denton City Council session, and then, likely to the voters.
City Intergovernmental Relations Director Lindsey Baker said an item has been placed on the June 3 city council agenda for the council to receive the citizens’ petition into record and set a public hearing on the proposed ordinance.
At that point the ordinance, drafted by the Denton Drilling Awareness Group, could go one of two directions: the council will have 60 days to vote the fracking ban into law, or send it to the voters for them to decide on it in the November election.
Denton’s new mayor, Chris Watts, said he can’t speak for his fellow members, but expects this one to more than likely go to the election.
"Me, personally, I would feel comfortable with it going before the voters because it has some potential ramifications either way it goes,” said Mayor Watts. “Some people are going to be happy, some aren’t.”
The Denton City Council is returning to the issue with three new members, including Watts, following the recent election.
Members of the Denton Drilling Awareness Group turned in the petition earlier this month with more than 1,900 names on it. The city secretary validated 610 signatures because only 596 were required to force council action; 25 percent of the number of citizens who voted in the last local election.
Cathy McMullen, who heads the group, said Wednesday that this is likely just the beginning of their fight.
“We've planned it with the forethought in mind that we're going to have to take this all the way to November and it's basically going to be a political campaign,” said McMullen.
McMullen said she moved to Denton from Decatur to escape fracking wells, only to have one start up near a park up the street from her new home.
When wells went up last fall closer to homes in the Vintage Neighborhood than city ordinance allowed, McMullen’s team began the petition.
She fully expects an opposing campaign from the drilling industry; and an expensive one at that.
"There's no way we could compete anyway with spending,” she said. "They can't buy the community support and they can't buy ... they really can't buy your health and safety and peace of mind."
NBC 5 placed several calls to Eagle Ridge Energy Wednesday for comment (the largest driller in Denton), but no one answered.
The ordinance would specifically ban the hydraulic fracturing method of drilling; not all drilling. However, opponents said that is currently the main source of drilling in the area.
Folks have also questioned whether the ordinance could stand up to legal challenges over owners’ access to mineral rights, among other concerns.
McMullen believes the ordinance will hold up and said with other drilling still allowed the minerals would not be completely cut off from owners.
Her group is planning an education campaign in the event it does go to voters in hopes of swaying the public to their side.