About Air and Water

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Denton repeals item in new gas well drilling ordinance

By Lowell Brown - Staff Writer Denton Chronicle - Tuesday, August 3, 2010
Denton city leaders tweaked their new gas drilling ordinance Monday after having second thoughts about a fee for wells outside city limits.

The City Council voted 5-0 to repeal a $1,800 annual inspection and administration fee for natural gas wells in the city’s extraterritorial jurisdiction, or ETJ — land just outside the city where it has some limited powers. Council members Charlye Heggins and James King weren’t present for the vote.

The council approved the fee July 21 along with other drilling regulations in what city officials described as an interim ordinance that would apply until they could finish a comprehensive code review.

Energy industry representatives argued the fee was too high and questioned the city’s authority to expand its regulations outside city limits.

Council members voted to revoke the fee before it took effect at the request of city staff members but said they would revisit the issue in the second phase of the code overhaul.

City Attorney Anita Burgess said the action would allow the city time to make sure the fee was “tied to and consistent with” the city’s powers.

The city received “quite a few comments from the industry with regard to the assessment of these fees in the ETJ,” Burgess said during the meeting. “This is a little bit of a cutting-edge area and so it would be in the interest of the city to make sure that, as we proceed forward, we’re careful how we do it.”

Burgess said she remains confident that the city has the power to regulate the ETJ. The only question is the extent of that power, she said.

Council member Dalton Gregory, an advocate for stronger drilling regulations, said the city should be careful not to overcharge the industry.

At the same time, he said, inspection fees should be high enough to cover the city’s costs so taxpayers aren’t subsidizing drilling.

The new drilling rules are scheduled to take effect Wednesday. They include higher permit and inspection fees for wells within the city, stricter noise limits at drilling sites, and increased setbacks and screening between gas wells and structures such as homes and schools.

Council members, worried the city’s drilling rules were too lenient, passed the interim ordinance as an alternative to issuing a moratorium on new permits.

Mayor Mark Burroughs said he knew the swift approval process put a “healthy burden” on city staff and meant some regulations might need to be corrected along the way.

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