Community briefing on ordinance revisions

The latest revisions to the gas well development ordinance should be released Friday afternoon, when Tuesday’s agenda packet is posted on the city’s website.

I plan on reading the materials and writing a weekend paper to help our readers know what’s coming. The City Council’s work session Tuesday was less of a discussion of “what” more than it was a discussion of “how” the public hearing will go on Tuesday.

However, city officials are planning a briefing on the changes Monday. Council member John Ryan typically holds “town hall” style meeting once a month — usually at the North Branch Library — to give residents a chance to get more in-depth information about a current issue or share a concern. Ryan has moved this month’s meeting to City Hall and will get help from Darren Groth, head of the city’s gas well inspection division, with a presentation on the changes.

Residents will be able to ask questions of either the elected officials or city staff present at the briefing, in order to better prepare for Tuesday’s public hearing.

More to come as I get it.

Scientists: “rapid and thorough” response needed to fracking

A group of doctors and scientists reviewed a number of recent studies of hydraulic fracturing against what is known about reproductive health and identified increased health risks for infants, children and adults.

The peer-reviewed literature review, “Development and reproductive effects of chemicals associated with unconventional oil and natural gas operations,” was published today in the quarterly scientific journal, Reviews of Environmental Health. The authors, Ellen Webb, Sheila Bushkin-Bedient, Amanda Cheng, Christopher D. Kassotis, Victoria Balise and Susan C. Nagel, concluded there was a compelling need to better understand the consequences of fracking “through rapid and thorough further health research.”

The group studied what was known about unconventional oil and gas development, including the facts that more than 15 million Americans live within one mile of such operations. Shale drilling and fracking involves the use of chemicals with known risks to the human reproductive system, including volatile organic compounds (namely, benzene, toluene, ethyl benzene, xylene and formaldehyde) and heavy metals.

Some of the increased risks the group identified in their review of the scientific literature including effects on the fertility of both men and women, effects on fetal development and birth defects.

In an interview, Bushkin-Bedient said the group found the work by two other researchers, veterinarian Michelle Bamberger and scientist Robert Oswald, particularly informative. Bamberger and Oswald which identified livestock near frack sites as sentinels to potential health risks and published their research in New Solutions: A Journal of Environmental and Occupational Health Policy in 2012.

Nagel said both additional laboratory experiments and large-scale epidemiological studies were needed to better understand the risks.

Denton answers lawsuits

Just back from the Denton County courthouse to get a copy of the city’s answer to the Texas Oil and Gas Association lawsuit against the city’s new ban on hydraulic fracturing. City staff tell me a copy of the answer to the General Land Office’s lawsuit will be in my in-box shortly.

You can see it’s fairly simple, just two pages to say that the “entire field” of regulations from the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality and the Texas Railroad Commission don’t meet the requirement of fair notice.

Further, the city offers the defense that the citizen’s initiative is not subject to preemption because of the public nuisance fracking brings.

Update: Here’s the answer to the state’s lawsuit. The city has asked for a change of venue.

More details in tomorrow’s newspaper.

City’s position paper on “vested rights”

During the council’s work session last week, several members referred to a Vested Rights Position and White Paper.

I wrote the story as best I could, not knowing the details of what was in the paper. The paper was not included in the agenda back-up online. I finally received a copy late Friday.

But it has been well known that many of the troubles the city has had enforcing its new oil and gas development ordinance can be traced to the Harper Park Two decision.

The position paper argues against stretching the Texas Supreme Courts’ interpretation of a development project’s vested rights from Harper Park Two to an oil and gas development project, asserting that it likely does not reflect the intent of the Texas Legislature.

What is the project? Is it only that pad site identified on the original plat? Is it one well, or two wells, or five wells? Is the project the complete exhaustion of the mineral stores of the mineral lease, no matter the necessity of burdening the surface estate with additional wells and gas infrastructure? In an urban environment with underlying gas plays, the answer to these questions determines the health and safety and the quality of life of a municipality’s citizens.

 

 

Was the frack ban vote red or blue?

Much has been made of the vote in Precinct 4003, in part because I tweeted out some interesting facts as the counts came in on election night.

I thought it might be helpful to make a chart that shows each precinct with some conditional formatting on the cells to help you visualize the numbers and how they compare. “Favor” is the frack ban vote scaled red-yellow-green, to the degree to which that precinct favored the ban on hydraulic fracturing. “GOP” is scaled red-blue to the degree to which those who voted straight ticket did so for the GOP.

It’s important to know that this isn’t quite an apples-to-apples comparison up and down the chart. In Pct 1008, for example, 308 straight-ticket ballots were cast in Pct 1008, but just 35 ballots cast in the frack ban. Some voters in that precinct are likely outside the city limits and I’ll be checking into that.

Also, in Pct 4002 and 4042, there were only handful of voters who cast ballots.

It’s also important to know that the 308 straight-ticket voters in Pct 1008 notwithstanding, we have no idea how about 7,000 people contributed to one party or another, or if they even split their ticket at all. That’s roughly about a 27 percent difference between the two grand totals (25,376 frack ban votes, and 18,539 straight-party ticket votes in city precincts)

Let’s look at the precincts with the heaviest turnout. The top five were 4003 (2,746), 4007 (1,799), 1017 (1,728), 1018 (1,718) and 1012 (1,433).

Armchair pundits could point to the outcome in the first two and explain it away on party politics, but I don’t believe that would withstand much ground-truthing. There’s a lot more at play, and if you look closely at the next three, Precincts 1017, 1018 and 1012 tell the story much closer to the political reality in Denton.

Frack Ban Vote

 

Frack ban lawsuits

Here is the original petition from the Texas Oil and Gas Association, filed today in Denton District Court No. 431.

TxOGAvDenton

Here is the original petition from the Texas Land Office, which was filed in Travis County.

TLOvDenton

Convention Center financial scenarios

The Denton city staff posted a dozen different financial scenarios for the convention center financing to the agenda packet from last week. They weren’t there when the packet first went up, but got added later.

(Go here. Click on the 10/28 agenda. Scroll down to the convention center item, click on Exhibit 5, Scenarios Detail.)

Right away, you can rule out several of them because they include tax contributions from the county and school district. (It’s bothersome that neither body voted, so that the rejection could be on the record. But there you have it.)

The difference in the cost to the city in some of the scenarios is striking. For example, financing the $28.98 million project over 25 years and 30 years greatly increases the ultimate cost. Scenario 3 (4 percent debt over 25 years with a 78 percent full hotel to help out) means the convention center’s ultimate cost is $45.4 million. Scenario 10 (6 percent debt over 30 years with a 69 percent full hotel to help out) means the convention center’s ultimate cost rises to $60.8 million … a $15 million swing for the city.

The developer’s contribution swings about as wide between those two scenarios, from $5.5 million to $13.2 million.

Scenario 12 may explain why the developer has pushed the city to go to 30 year financing, without offering any support those last five years.

A poor performing hotel with the hotel on a 25 year note at 6 percent means the developer’s contribution toward the debt rises to $17.4 million.

Even small increments mean big dollars over the life of the deal.

Back by popular demand: Campaign Finance Reports, Round 2

For the proposition to ban hydraulic fracturing in the city:

Denton Taxpayers for a Strong Economy

Pass The Ban

For the proposition to make Denton wet:

Denton First

For the four propositions totaling $98.2 million for public improvements

Building a Better Denton

Don’t forget, these cover the period from Sept. 26 to Oct. 25.

The first round of reports are here.

Update on mineral rights lawsuit

The city has successfully petitioned to move the case with Arsenal Minerals, et al, to federal court. Here’s the original story to get you up to speed if you missed this important story when we broke it last month.

The court required attorney Charles Chandler Davis to refile according to federal court rules. The amended petition is here:

DavisAmendedPetition

The city has not yet answered the petition, although federal rules require that they answer it more specifically than they would in district court. They have a few weeks before the answer is due to the judge. Here is the court order that lays out the initial deadlines.

FedCourtOrder

 

Voter registrations to date

Denton County has processed 7,637 new voter registrations, 1,968 of them in the city of Denton, since July 15.

Elections officials tell me that there are more being processed that will have made the final cut off, which was yesterday, but it will be a few days before the last of the rolls are in.

New voter registration in the city Denton has far outpaced registration in the county’s other major cities, including Carrollton (635) Lewisville (846), Frisco (641) and Flower Mound (541).

Younger voters continue to drive those numbers, with about 1,260 of them ages 25 or younger. Recently, Amber Briggle posted on her Facebook page that she was at a University of North Texas event ready to register as many as 100 new voters and ended up registering far less because so many of the students had already registered.

But that also means about one-third of the newly registered voters, or about 700, are out there in the wild in Denton.

The NT Daily is reporting that early voting will be available on the UNT campus at Sycamore Hall to make it easier for students there to cast their ballots.