Monday, December 31, 2012

Occupy the Ordinance

This is an interactive post! Be ready to do your homework and submit your questions!
The City of Denton has just posted its draft fracking ordinance in a new, convenient searchable format! Of course, that is the only thing that is user-friendly about this dense thicket of legalese. You will find it is 112 pages long – but don’t worry it is actually two versions of the ordinance. The first 62 pages are over-tracked with changes from the last version (round 4, was it?). The (relatively) clean draft begins on page 63 if you want to skip there.  
Breathe easy – only 62 pages of homework!
So will this ordinance protect the health, safety, and welfare of the people of Denton? That’s for you to decide.
But I imagine that you could use some help deciphering what the ordinance actually means in terms of protecting citizens. That is why DAG is requesting that the City of Denton partner with it in sponsoring an educational event.
The premise is very simple. 1. We, the people, identify our remaining questions about the ordinance (both about what is in there and about what has been left out). 2. We submit those in advance to knowledgeable members of City Staff. 3. We all attend a presentation where those questions are answered for us – and hopefully we engage in a bit of respectful dialogue.
I think I speak for most members of DAG when I say: I will not endorse this ordinance until I get satisfactory answers to our remaining questions. The process has been bungled - not democracy at its best - so I think we are owed this chance to understand how this industrial activity will impact our community in the future. I know they don’t need my endorsement – but as one of our engaged and educated citizens (call me a fracktivist if you want J), I sure hope they try to get it. As I said in a recent publication – I’m not sure what the rules would look like for ‘responsible fracking’ – they may not even exist. But I am sure, despite making some good progress, that we haven’t crafted them yet.
OK – I warned you – now it is time for you to dig into the ordinance and submit your questions! Please use the comment function on the blog or add to the Facebook string. Let me prime the pump with a list of questions that some members of DAG have already put together. (Some of these are listed in our most recent report). If you agree with some of these, please also indicate that --- that way we know which ones seem to be most pressing:
1.      Why can’t we increase set back distances to 1,500 feet as Flower Mound did? 35.22.5.A.1

2.      Why have we not followed the lead of other cities and prohibited compressor stations?

3.      Why can’t we use a three-tiered zoning strategy for fracking: permit drilling by right in industrial areas, via an SUP in commercial areas, and prohibit drilling in residential areas?

4.      To limit vested rights claims, can we set an expiration timeline for projects (not just permits) so that projects are not perpetually considered ongoing?

5.      Following on that point, which activities will this new ordinance actually apply to?

6.      Why can’t we eliminate variances (reductions of setbacks between wells and protected uses) altogether or at least make sure they are designed to protect inhabitants of rental properties? 35.22.5.A.1

7.      Why can’t we eliminate all pits that would contain anything but freshwater?

8.      Why can’t we simply ban fracking?

9.      Why can’t we require low-bleed valves and other industry-recognized best practices catalogued in the EPA-STAR natural gas program?

10.  On p. 17 of the over-tracked version: What are vapor recovery units? Why are they only required under certain circumstances and what are those circumstances?

11.  On p. 17: Regarding reduced emissions completions, what does it mean to be infeasible, who determines that? Can we be sure that all vapors (and not just the recovered gas) are captured and prevented from release? What does it mean to ‘minimize’ release to the atmosphere – what standard is applied here?

12.  On p. 20: Why can’t we simply prohibit venting and flaring outright? When is it allowed by RRC and TCEQ?

13.  On p. 20, What are centralized tank batteries? What hazards do they present? Are they necessary?

14.  Air and water monitoring requirements – why are these not spelled out in the same detail as the soil sampling requirements? Have you looked at the example provided by Hurst?

15.  On pp. 34-35: Why was the leak detection and compliance plan removed? How can we be sure we are monitoring, measuring, preventing, and responding to emissions of harmful chemicals?

16.  On pp. 35-36:  Why were the freshwater well testing requirements removed? How can we be sure that we are protecting our aquifers and watersheds?

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