Bad Deal: Denton Loses in its Agreement with EagleRidge
The City of Denton has entered into a standstill
agreement with EagleRidge that is effective until January 31, 2014. City
Council member Kevin Roden wrote some
remarks about the agreement this morning. I have always appreciated his
support of DAG (which was his idea to begin with) and respect his position on
this issue. But I disagree with him when it comes to the standstill agreement
and some other points in his remarks.
Here are the basic terms of the standstill agreement:
·During this period, EagleRidge will not drill,
re-drill, or frack any wells in the city limits EXCEPT for twelve wells, including the three most controversial
ones in the Vintage area, three wells within 800 feet of Southlakes Park (two of them new), and
four wells across the highway from UNT.
·For these wells, EagleRidge has agreed to eight operating
·In return for this, Denton will issue all
required permits for all twelve of these wells.
Here is my read of the agreement, which is far more cynical
than Mr. Roden’s:
·EagleRidge continues with status quo. After all,
they can only work on so many wells at a time – twelve is plenty. This will in
no way impede their operations. They won’t be ‘standing still.’
·The eight operating requirements are mostly
standard and insignificant stuff. Diesel rigs still used. They will close gates.
They will collect any dripping oil from under trucks (as if that was the big
concern). A bunch of other stuff (like using licensed water haulers) that they
have to do anyway. The one potentially important condition is a requirement of
green completions, but see more on that below.
·The City hears stories of frustrations and fears
from people in the Vintage area and they respond not by obstructing EagleRidge but by actually handing them the permits!
This also makes very plain that EagleRidge was operating penalty-free without the
Now, more on green completions. EagleRidge claims
that “Since the formation of EagleRidge Energy in 2009, we have performed
green completions on all of our gas wells in Denton and Wise Counties.” Note
also their claim about no excess gas escaping into the atmosphere.
But then, watch this video taken by ShaleTest of an
EagleRidge well being completed just a couple of weeks ago across the street
from UNT. This was taken with a Flir camera that can detect several air toxins
and VOCs such as benzene. Here is a screen shot of a clip from the video (can't get it to load as a preview for some reason):
What was that about no excess gas escaping? These emissions
triggered health complaints to the TCEQ (of course, they called EagleRidge to
tell them they were coming to test so they were able to temporarily shut down
during the test). I once went jogging near another EagleRidge well being
completed and was overwhelmed by the noxious odors and felt sick that day. I
was no closer than these homes will be in Vintage.
So, to conclude my cynical read: The City gave EagleRidge their blessing to frack many of the most
controversial wells in town and got nothing meaningful in return.
Finally, I want to take issue with one of Mr. Roden’s comments.
He claims that “throughout the drafting” of our ordinance it was clear that the
rules would only apply to “NEW drilling operations.” But that actually was not
clear to me until toward the end. It only became clear after the first draft
came out from behind the veil of closed-door legal sessions with all that
impenetrable language about vested rights. This was never taken up
appropriately in an open and public way. We never got a chance to tackle this
explicitly, to do research on it, to hear from alternative legal perspectives…
I think he is right that we need to build further
protections into our ordinance. It is just frustrating to hear this now after
the window has closed on our major policy overhaul and we are forced to react
in an ad hoc way as drilling continues amidst all the confusion. It is also
frustrating to hear him only now casting doubts on the fact that our ordinance (35.22.5.A.1.d)
still allows residential sub-divisions to be built as close as 250 feet from a
drilling and production site.
I don’t like to say “told you so,” but I can point to the
first DAG report (released two years ago), which explicitly called for removing
this section and read: “There should be no variances for pre-existing or