Chamber: Vote no to fracking ban

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Group recommends members cast ballots against proposition

The Denton Chamber of Commerce has formally recommended that its employees and members vote against a proposed ban on hydraulic fracturing that will appear on the city’s Nov. 4 general election ballot.

Chamber officials, who represent businesses large and small, cited possible revenue losses for the University of North Texas, the city and the Denton school district. All of them derive tax revenue or receive mineral royalties from gas wells.

The chamber’s board of directors adopted a formal resolution opposing the ban at its regular meeting Aug. 21, and in an accompanying press release said that “challenging state law with a permanent comprehensive ban is not the answer to concerns over the drilling process.”

Instead, the chamber called for “reasonable regulation of local well sites.”

“We don’t disagree that it is an issue, and I understand what it can do to property, but an outright ban is not the answer,” chamber President Chuck Carpenter said by phone Thursday. “We prefer it be dealt with through management of the regulations. Good, sound regulation of any kind of drilling should be in place, but what’s more important is the implementation of those rules and making sure they are enforced fairly.”

For Denton voters, the November ballot comes packed with propositions, including one that would ban fracking in the city limits. Nearly 2,000 residents signed a volunteer-driven petition to ban fracking, three times the number of signatures needed to force an election on the initiative.

Adam Briggle, a member of Denton Drilling Awareness Group, was among the leaders of the petition drive that led to the ballot proposition. He expressed disappointment in the chamber’s resolution and said the business group failed to look at the big picture.

“Like the industry, they only thought about the costs of a ban and didn’t see how that flea is dwarfed by the elephant of economic benefits that a ban will bring,” he said in an email. “The chamber advocates ‘reasonable regulations,’ but this, too, is just a restatement of an industry talking-point. The fact is that the city of Denton worked for three years attempting to craft regulations that would both permit fracking and protect the health, safety, and welfare of her citizens. Yet at every turn, the industry failed to compromise.”

There are about 270 wells in the city limits, many of them older wells that date from the beginning of the Barnett Shale drilling boom. In recent years, some energy companies have claimed vested rights to rework those wells under the city’s older regulations, ultimately bringing drilling and fracking into Denton neighborhoods within just a few hundred feet of people’s homes.

Ed Longanecker, president of the Texas Independent Producers & Royalty Owners, congratulated the chamber on its resolution.

“Oil and gas development remains a safe and strictly regulated practice,” Longanecker said in a news release issued from his Austin office. “A ban on hydraulic fracturing, which is essentially a ban on drilling, would set a negative precedent that could stifle growth for our industry and the state’s economy. We greatly appreciate the support offered by the Denton Chamber of Commerce and will continue to work with all stakeholders.”

Also on the the November ballot, Denton voters will consider four propositions to fund capital improvements in the city totaling about $98.2 million and another proposition to legalize liquor sales citywide.

The City Council also agreed to ask voters whether the city should give up about 1.7 acres on the southwest side of North Lakes Park. While not part of the proposition that will be on the ballot, a developer has proposed swapping the land for money and a small parcel on the northeast side of the park.

Staff writer Mark Finley contributed to this report.

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

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