Denton City Council Extends Standstill on New Oil Drilling

Denton City Council decided Tuesday night that there will be no new oil well drilling for the next 30 days.

City Council voted 5-2 to extend a standstill agreement with EagleRidge Energy that expired at the end of January.

As part of that agreement, EagleRidge will not drill at any new well sites in town while city leaders work with the energy company on a compromise regarding rights the company holds at certain sites throughout town.

The issue first came up late last October at drilling operations off of Bonnie Brae St., Highway 377, and Vintage Blvd - the area has since become referred to by many as the vintage neighborhood. Several wells were, and continue to operate within a few hundred feet of homes in this area.

Since the issue first came up, neighbors said the side effects of hydraulic fracturing operations, or more commonly referred to asfracking, have become significantly worse at times.

Many residents said the noise and smells from the site will often be well above reasonable levels.

"All I could hear was the vibrating sound of stuff going on,” said Alyse Ogletree who lives in the neighborhood. “If you’re standing next to a running car you can’t even tell it’s turned on.”

Ogletree and many of her neighbors are also concerned about possible effects of fracking operations on their health and the health of their families.

"I have a 4-year-old handicapped son who is partially immune compromised. I am scared to death he is going to breathe in some of these chemicals and something is going to turn for the worst,” Ogletree said.

"The fracking started near my home, within 500 feet of my home, and suddenly my son is having multiple issues,” said Maile Bush listing off asthma problems, nose bleeds and other health issues.

While the neighbors said they aren't certain that fracking is the cause, they don’t want to take the chance.

"Something needs to be done,” said Ogletree.

In December, Denton sued EagleRidge over the wells, citing that they fell within a 1200 foot buffer zone that city code requires between residential areas and industry.

That lawsuit was struck down but council reinforced the code with stronger language and said the city permits must be granted before fire marshals could issue state permits to drill operators.

It was at that time the agreement to standstill on new wells also was created so that some of the concerns about proximity to homes could be worked on.

More than 100 people showed up at Tuesday's City Council meeting to address fracking concerns while the city considered extending the standstill.

Council members were greeted at the doors to chambers by several UNT students holding anti-drilling signs and singing lyrics like, “Denton was made to be frack-free.”

Dozens of residents voiced concerns before the council and demanded more be done to get drilling under control in the city.

"That standstill is a travesty and is totally unacceptable,” said one resident.

"We don't want this, we want a full moratorium, if not a full out ban on fracking,” said Kelsey Fryman.

Several speakers also cited an article in the UK’s Guardian publication which highlighted the fracking situation in Denton.

"For an international magazine like this to mention us by name and explain what's going on shocked me beyond belief,” said Rebecca Lindrose.

"No longer is this city a town of good music, of good schools, a place to raise their according to international headlines, we're a fracking hell,” said Johnathan Adams.

All speakers except one came forward asking for a moratorium on fracking while the city creates a better ordinance and better enforcement tactics.

However, it may not be that simply.

Mayor Mark Burroughs said Wednesday, that cities in Texas often times find their hands tied on industry issues like fracking. He said the Texas Railroad Commission ultimately issues the permits to drilling operators and once those permits go out cities have very little say; even in zoning issues like this one.

Burroughs called on citizens to express their fracking concerns to the state legislature and try to win better ability for cities to decide what works and what doesn’t within city limits.

“Cities are the eyes and ears on the ground for the state,” said Burroughs adding that it often in these cases doesn’t actually work out that way.

After public comment on the issue, one councilman called for a full copy of the public comments to be sent to Denton’s state representatives to provide a better idea of the peoples’ feelings on the issue.

The lone speaker - in-favor of expanding drilling in town - told the council of his experiences in the drilling industry in the past.

“It can be done safely,” said Jimmy Robinson.

Robinson urged the council to be fair with the fracking industry in this matter and future ones.

Burroughs said Wednesday that it is very important to find balance on the issue and not just take away any group’s rights.

The standstill agreement will last through March 4.

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