Monday, November 25, 2013

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 requirements.


·         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 required permits.

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 pre-planned wells.”


  1. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

  2. Your view is not cynical, Adam. It is a plain read of the plain language and a plain description of the plain facts of things you plainly observed. Only a person trying to keep on their rose-colored glasses would call it cynical.

  3. Thank you, Adam. This is speaking truth.

  4. So you disagree State law would trump any ordinance? Again we have our City Attorney advising council that they should act in a certain way, yet people still are calling for the opposite?

    1. Our city attorney has one interpretation of the law - there are other city attorneys with other interpretations. Legal hermeneutics is not the same as simple observations of the type 'the cat is on the mat.'

    2. How about we vote on whether we want our city to pass ordinances that will result in lawsuits? Arlington has never used the ordinance they passed where gas companies have to pay for fire coverage you know!

    3. Sure, I'd be up for that vote. We'd have to specify what the cause is, though, that would result in a lawsuit. Some things are worth fighting for and some laws are unjust.