Forum on fracking ban draws crowd

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David Minton/DRC
Ed Soph, a board member of the Denton Drilling Advisory Group, speaks during a League of Women Voters forum Saturday at Dan’s Silverleaf.

About 100 hear perspectives at League of Women Voters event

About 100 people filled the tables and bar stools at Dan’s Silverleaf on Saturday afternoon to get help sorting through the facts and the rhetoric surrounding the proposed ban on hydraulic fracturing.

The League of Women Voters sponsored the forum to discuss the proposition brought by a citizen initiative to ban hydraulic fracturing inside the Denton city limits. It was the group’s second such forum this fall and third this year in support of local elections, and one of its best-attended events ever, according to league member Amber Briggle.

A three-person panel each made opening and closing statements, and in between fielded questions from the audience for the two-hour event. They included Denton resident Ed Soph, a member of the Denton Drilling Awareness Group and Frack Free Denton, Copper Canyon resident Tom Giovanetti, president of Institute for Policy Innovation, and Flower Mound resident Laurie Long, a former member of the Flower Mound Town Council who recently completed her doctoral degree in public administration and management at the University of North Texas.

The league asked Long to present factual information to her prepared statements and to any questions, much of which was based on her dissertation research. She studied whether citizen involvement can impact how close drilling and fracking come to homes, schools and other protected uses. In the North Texas area, she found that where there was more citizen involvement, there tended to be greater setbacks between homes and those protected uses.

Because the industrial activity of drilling and fracking has moved into urban areas, there is a bigger fear factor, Long said.

“The uncertainty makes it a risk,” Long said. “So the question is, how much risk are you willing to take?”

During the forum, Soph advocated for the ban and Giovanetti advocated against it, with both saying the other points fomented fear.

Giovanetti told the crowd that the economy is set up to allow companies to innovate and that, should problems develop, steps could be taken to manage them.

He encouraged people to allow policy makers to use a risk management approach. The Environmental Protection Agency and the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality have found that fracking does not present a public health problem, he said.

“We let people try things and we learn,” Giovanetti said. “Everything has an impact on the environment.”

“Don’t fall to fear,” he added.

Soph said it wasn’t responsible to frack near homes or parks and schools. As various researchers study fracking, they are finding more problems with its impacts.

“It isn’t looking good,” Soph said, adding that the burden shouldn’t be put on a community to prove that fracking is dangerous before people can take action.

“The onus should be on industry to prove that fracking is safe,” Soph said.

Forum moderator Linnie McAdams praised the crowd for coming to learn about the issue and reminded them that it was important not to vote just on one or two issues, but to finish the ballot.

“You can vote a long ballot in a short time,” McAdams said.

In addition to the statewide and county races, the ballot includes seven local propositions. Four of the propositions make up the $98.2 million bond package that would pay for improvements to city streets, parks, public buildings and other facilities should voters approve. Voters are also being asked to change the liquor laws, which would both allow liquor stores and remove the “private club” requirement for mixed-drink sales in bars. The City Council also placed a proposition on the the ballot to sell a small portion of North Lakes Park.

The proposition to ban fracking reads as follows: “Shall an ordinance be enacted prohibiting, within the corporate limits of the city of Denton, Texas, hydraulic fracturing, a well stimulation process involving the use of water, sand and/or chemical additives pumped under high pressure to fracture subsurface non-porous rock formations such as shale to improve the flow of natural gas, oil, or other hydrocarbons into the well, with subsequent high rate, extended flowback to expel fracture fluids and solids?”

Early voting begins Oct. 20.

Election Day is Nov. 4.

PEGGY HEINKEL-WOLFE can be reached at 940-566-6881 and via Twitter at @phwolfeDRC.

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