Denton drops lawsuit against energy company

Denton drops lawsuit against energy company

November 01
10:41 2013

Christina Ulsh / Senior Staff Writer

On Oct. 18, the city of Denton filed a temporary restraining order to cease EagleRidge gas well work. The city was suing the company for drilling two new wells at 3696 S. Bonnie Brae St. without permits and within 1,200 feet of residential houses.

District court denied the request for the restraining order the same day. Four days later, the city dropped the lawsuit and said in a statement it was going to explore all available options.

“That’s not necessarily the end of the legal issues involved with this,” city council member Jim Engelbrecht said.

The neighborhoods within 1,200 feet of the gas wells are in District 3, the district Engelbrecht represents. City council members and attorneys met Tuesday for a closed session meeting, then broke into an open session.

With three or four people in attendance, a revised ordinance was passed to clearly state developers had to obtain a drilling permit before obtaining a fire permit, Engelbrecht said.

The next step in handling the wells is undisclosed.

In 2003, a specific use permit, or SUP, gave permission to EagleRidge to develop gas wells east of Bonnie Brae and along what would become Vintage Boulevard. This ordinance predates the law saying wells must be 1,200 feet away from homes.

It is uncertain whether the two new wells are grandfathered – exempt from new laws – or not, Engelbrecht said.

If the new wells are covered under the SUP, resident Edwin Glynn said he is experiencing disturbances at the hands of a gas well that the SUP forbids.

“My fence is the only thing between me and the drill rig,” he said. “It stinks. It’s noisy. They don’t control their light pollution. We have found cracks in the floor that were not there prior.”

Damage to property as well as nuisances such as odor, fumes, dust and noise violate the SUP. Fines at $2,000 a day are to be administered to developers in scenarios like this, the permit says.

Sandy Mattox, another affected resident, told residents at a neighborhood informational meeting Tuesday they should consider pursuing legal action.

“After seeing the SUP, that it hasn’t been enforced and EagleRidge isn’t being fined for that, I’m starting to think we have grounds for a lawsuit against Denton itself,” said Mattox.

Mattox said the residents could either sue EagleRidge or the city as individuals or as a group. Attendants of the meeting were given a handout with different lawyers to contact and discuss terms with.

Alyse Ogletree, whose backyard is less than 300 feet from a rig, has contacted several attorneys to find out her options as far as suing whom and suing for what, she said.

Sharon Wilson, Texas organizer for Earthworks, also spoke to residents at the informational meeting. She said residents should complain whenever there are disturbances because the regulatory system is complaint-driven.

Complaints will bring attention to issues related to fracking in the area and will also allow Wilson to write reports based on the date of complaints made, she said.

Fracking, or hydraulic fracturing, is a form of extracting natural gas from the earth by injecting water, chemicals and sand into shale formations that hold natural gas and fracturing the rock so the gas is released into the well. After the process, 20 to 40 percent of the fracking fluids, including chemicals, are left underground, according to Water Pollution Lawyers, Flood Law Group LLP’s website.

Benzene is one of the chemicals that have been found in fracking fluids according to the website. The Environmental Protection Agency has classified benzene as a Class-A carcinogenic.

Before drilling began in McKenna Park off Bonnie Brae and Scripture Street, residents in that area asked the city to do testing of the air, water and soil but the city said it could not, said Cathy McMullen, president of the Denton Drilling Awareness Group, at the informational meeting.

The residents gathered $3,300 among themselves instead and tested the air quality before and during the drilling and fracking.

The Texas Commission on Environmental Quality exists to protect the state’s public health and natural resources consistent with sustainable economic development, according to the TCEQ website. It enforces the states environmental laws and makes sure regulations are necessary.

“The TCEQ long term established safe limit [for benzene] is 1.4 parts per billion. We were at 55.4,” McMullen said of the results during fracking in McKenna Park.

Exposure to benzene can lead to respiratory tract irritation, drowsiness, unconsciousness, central nervous system depression and irreversible bone marrow injury, according to a release from the Argyle-Bartonville Communities Alliance.

Ross McNeill, another resident, will not be pursuing action to get rid of the rigs.

“This is the largest natural find of gas in the country, and they’re going to be drilling all over the place, so I don’t know if anybody has a choice as far as everything that’s going on,” he said. “It’s a little annoying but so is construction.”

The Gas Well Inspections Divisions has 284 active wells within Denton’s corporate city limits, according to the city of Denton’s website.

Mark Grawe, EagleRidge chief operating officer, wrote in a blog post on the company’s website that it is the company’s constitutional and property right to continue their business off Bonnie Brae.

The EPA, TCEQ and other regulators monitor the safety of the public, he wrote. While they make mistakes and sometimes create new processes, these officials have experience and training in protecting the public and environment.

Hazards exist in many realms of everyday life, such as construction, transportation and natural disasters, he wrote. Since buildings and cars aren’t banned, he said the fear of destruction by gas wells is blown out of proportion.

“The fact is today, in our world, we as consumers are heavily reliant on natural gas, gasoline and other fossil fuels in our everyday life,” Grawe said in the post. “Perhaps one day a source of energy will be discovered that is low cost, no risk and plentiful.”

This Tuesday, like every first and third Tuesday of the month, a public meeting will be held at city hall at 215 E. McKinney St.

The work session, where the public can discuss with the council members, will start at 4:30 p.m. in the work session room. The city council meeting, where the city council will vote on any ready motions, will begin at 6:30 p.m. or whenever the work session ends in the council chambers. The work session time is subject to change.

“It will address any issues we have on the board that need to be addressed and are ready to be addressed,” Engelbrecht said.

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