Earlier this year, the city of Denton approved regulations that would supposedly stop gas companies from drilling new wells near homes. Yet recently, residents in the Vintage neighborhood began noticing some suspicious noises and vibrations. They were coming from an old gas well site nearby. Denton officials realized a company was drilling there and sued to stop it. But the lawsuit didn't work out for Denton, and last week the city officially caved.
On Friday, the Denton City Council passed a new law explicitly allowing the company to keep on drilling at the controversial site. The moral of this story is that following city ordinances as they're originally written is for suckers.
Denton is one of the many smaller cities nearby that for years has allowed natural gas companies to come in and drill, providing a model -- or maybe more like a cautionary tale -- for Dallas, which has yet to allow fracking in city limits until everyone agrees on how to regulate it. (Supposedly, the Dallas City Council will settle the issue once and for all on December 11, when they are scheduled to vote on an ordinance requiring 1,500 feet between fracking wells and homes).
In Denton, meanwhile, getting permission to frack a natural gas well once used to be pretty easy. But as the years wore on, Denton's laws got a little tougher. At the start of this year, the Denton City Council amended its drilling ordinance. Now drillers are supposed to stay a full 1,200 feet from houses.
So residents in the Vintage neighborhood were not happy when they noticed "vibrations, noise and glare" about 600 feet from their homes, on an old drilling site at 3696 S. Bonnie Brae.
The city intervened with a lawsuit last month against EagleRidge, the energy company with mineral rights to the 12-year-old site on Bonnie Brae. "The actions of the Defendants are causing immediate and irreparable harm," the city's lawsuit says. Denton asked for a temporary restraining to stop EagleRidge from drilling.
On October 23 Denton dropped the suit. The city's chances of winning hadn't been looking good. Judge L. Dee Shipman already denied Denton's request for a temporary restraining order against EagleRidge.
Last week, many angry residents filled in the Denton City Hall, asking the city to stop EagleRidge from drilling on the Bonnie Brae site.
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Instead, on Friday the City Council passed an ordinance allowing a "Standstill Agreement" between the city and gas company. It is an agreement of sorts, but one that looks awfully nice for EagleRidge. "During the Standstill Agreement, Eagleridge will not drill, re-drill or frac...any wells within the corporate limit of the City, except for the following," the agreement explains, before listing 12 wells that are exceptions. That includes the controversial wells at the Bonnie Brae site, also known as Bonnie Brae 4H, 3H and 2H.
On his website, Denton City Councilman Kevin Roden doesn't hide his ticked-off feelings about EagleRidge, but he says that a cozy relationship between the fracking industry and the state has left Denton without much choice. He adds that there are still another 400 plus wells in Denton that will be off-limits to EagleRidge under the new agreement.
Adam Briggle, a philosophy professor at UNT who regularly blogs about local drilling, has a more cynical take: "the City gave EagleRidge their blessing to frack many of the most controversial wells in town and got nothing meaningful in return. "
Send your story tips to the author, Amy Silverstein.