Texas gas city eyes ban on gas well fracking
DENTON, Texas — Natural gas money has been good to this Texas city: It has new parks, a new golf course and miles of grassy soccer fields. The business district is getting a makeover, and the airport is bustling, too.
For more than a decade, Denton has drawn its lifeblood from the huge gas reserves that lie beneath its streets. The gas fields have produced a billion dollars in mineral wealth and pumped more than $30 million into city bank accounts.
But this former farming center north of Dallas is considering a revolt. Unlike other communities that have embraced the lucrative drilling boom made possible by hydraulic fracturing, leaders here have temporarily halted all fracking as they consider an ordinance that could make theirs the first city in the state to permanently ban the practice.
“I think the people of Denton really want to keep the livability of the town,” said Taylor Schrang, a 28-year-old personal trainer. “And fracking is pretty obtrusive.”
If City Council rejects the ban, it will go to voters in November.
The college town has preserved much of its agricultural past. Historic downtown streets lined with 19th-century buildings open up to expansive fields with greenhouses and grazing cattle. But drilling is never far away, with about 275 active gas wells piercing the earth.
The willingness to reject fracking in the heart of oil and gas country reflects a broader shift in thinking.
In place of gas drills, some of Denton's 120,000 residents envision a future in which their city is known for environmentally friendly commerce and the nation's largest community garden. They've even embarked on a campaign to persuade the maker of Sriracha hot sauce to expand its pepper-grinding business here — a prospect that appeals to the local farm-to-table culture.
Fracking involves blasting a mix of water, sand and an assortment of chemicals deep into underground rock formations to free oil and gas. The method has long stirred concerns about its effect on air and water quality, and whether it releases cancer-causing chemicals and causes small earthquakes.
Around the time fracking began in Denton, in 2000, the population started to swell, along with doubts about the drilling. More graduates from the University of North Texas and from Texas Woman's University chose to stay in town and set up small businesses.
Simmering concerns over the proximity of new wells to residential areas came to a head in 2009, when nurse Cathy McMullen organized a 300-person protest against five wells planned in a meadow across from a city park.
The Denton Drilling Awareness Group proposed tighter fracking rules and even won a series of temporary bans on new drilling permits.
At the same time, drillers defied city rules that required them to line wastewater pits and prohibited them from burning off, or “flaring,” waste gas in residential areas.
“All that did was make people so fired up,” McMullen said. “We had no choice” but to call for an outright ban, she said.
It also helped that only 2 percent of Denton's residents receive royalties from the drilling, McMullen said, citing an analysis of city appraisal records on mineral property values between 2002 and 2013.
Scores of other cities and some states have considered similar bans, but few, if any, have Denton's close ties to the oil and gas industry.
The issue could test whether any community in Texas, the nation's biggest oil and gas producer, can rebuff the industry and still thrive.
If the fracking ban is adopted, it's unclear whether the law would hold up in court. Cities in Colorado and California are being sued by drilling operators over similar bans, and owners of mineral rights here are making their case for more drilling.
Ed Ireland, director of the Barnett Shale Energy Education Council, a pro-industry group, said Denton cannot implement a ban because the city in 2000 began issuing drilling permits to operators “in perpetuity.”
Show commenting policy
TribLive commenting policy
You are solely responsible for your comments and by using TribLive.com you agree to our Terms of Service.
We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.
While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.
We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers.
We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.
We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.
We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.
We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.
- Toyota Yaris adds French flair for ’15
- Faulty air bags in 30M vehicles
- Mini goes mainstream
- Bond mutual funds continue to carry their weight
- Motoring Q&A: ‘Check engine’ light doesn’t reset itself
- Amazon investors’ patience wears thin
- Stocks rise broadly on earnings; Amazon sinks
- Sell-off reins in complacency
- First Niagara sets aside $45 million
- Duquesne University business center helping Hispanic startups
- PUC approves Columbia Gas pipeline extensions program for homeowners