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Denton City Council Says It Must Allow Fracking Near Homes, so Homeowners Turn to Voters

Last fall, Eagleridge Energy won some permits to frack right next to a few Denton neighborhoods, despite a new city ordinance that was supposed to keep the company farther away. The city said sorry, it was powerless to stop Eagleridge, because the company had found an extremely clever loophole. So now, pissed-off homeowners are responding by basically telling the city "screw you" and trying to kick the company out themselves. Calling themselves the Denton Drilling Awareness Group, a group of homeowners just announced that they're trying to place a total ban on fracking within city limits on the ballot.

"The city and the state have repeatedly failed us," Maile Bush, one of the homeowners living just outside an Eagleridge drill site, says in a joint press release with Earthworks, an environmental group focused on mineral and energy development.

After years of political wrangling among local activists, the Denton City Council in January 2013 approved an ordinance that required a 1,200-foot setback between drilling operations and residences. That wasn't the 1,500 feet that some had hoped for, but it was tougher than before.

In the end, however, it didn't matter much. While the local activists and the City Council had their argument over setbacks, an energy company profiting from Denton's land continued to do as it pleased.

Last September, well after Denton passed its 1,200-foot rule, Eagleridge got permits from the Texas Railroad Commission to put new gas wells on an old site just 600 feet from homes. Then, less than a month later, Eagleridge started getting to work, calling attention to itself with obvious noises and vibrations.

Denton responded with a lawsuit and a restraining order against Eagleridge, arguing that "The City has never received or approved a gas well permit application" for the multiple wells.

A judge denied Denton's restraining order. It turned out that the company had won approval from the Railroad Commission on a loophole involving bad timing: The gas well site was there first, since 2002. The housing developments nearby were built later, after the site had been inactive for a few years.

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While the homeowners claim they had no idea they were purchasing houses just 600 feet from a potential drilling site, that was just too bad. Denton dropped its lawsuit and came to an agreement with Eagleridge that allowed the company to keep working on those contested areas. City Councilman Kevin Rodan wrote that the city had no choice, "thanks to the coziness of Texas legislators, law and legal precedence to the oil and gas lobby."

Then last month, residents say the industrial activity took a turn for the worse. The noise from Bush's front yard could range from 60 to 80 decibels, she told Unfair Park at the time, and the city wasn't very helpful. (Eighty decibels is about as loud as a garbage disposal, according to some comparisons.)

"We were essentially told that the ordinance does not apply to existing wells," she said.

Bush and the other homeowners have to collect 571 signatures within 180 days to get on the ballot.

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