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Denton Drops Bid for Restraining Order Against Oil and Gas Driller

UPDATED: The North Texas city of Denton has dropped its request for a restraining order against a local driller, according to court records.

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Updated, Oct. 23: 

A North Texas city on Wednesday dropped its request for a restraining order against a local driller, according to court records.

The city of Denton withdrew the request just five days after filing it in Denton County District Court. The city had alleged EagleRidge Energy, a Dallas-based company, had drilled two natural gas wells just 600 feet away from two neighborhoods, violating the rules that require a 1,200-foot buffer around drill sites. The city had also accused EagleRidge of failing to apply for the proper permits. 

A city spokeswoman said she did not know why the city decided to drop the case.

Original story, Oct. 21: 

A North Texas city is seeking a restraining order against a local driller, alleging the company is working on two natural gas wells without the city’s permission. 

In a complaint filed Friday in the Denton County District Court, the city of Denton says EagleRidge Energy, a Dallas-based company, ignored the city's demands to stop working on wells about 5 miles southwest of downtown. The city never permitted the development, the complaint says, and the wells lie too close to housing development, violating city rules.

“Defendants’ actions are being performed in flagrant disregard of the city’s right and duty to enforce its codes and ordinances,” the complaint says. “Without the intervention of this court, defendants are likely to continue such illegal operations.”

Representatives from EagleRidge and Denton declined to comment on the pending litigation. A Denton County district judge dismissed the city’s request for an immediate restraining order on Friday. The case will now go to trial, with a hearing set for Oct. 30.

Denton, with a population of more than 121,000 and growing, is one of several Texas cities wrangling with questions about where to allow drilling and how strictly to regulate the practice. Disputes have pitted drillers and other mineral owners against residents who are concerned about impacts on the environment, roads and public health. 

States, along with the federal government, regulate most aspects of drilling, including well integrity, pipeline safety, and air and water impact. But cities have sought to regulate noise and to control the location of wells or related sites like compressor stations.

Last January, Denton updated its drilling rules, which included adding 200 feet to its previous 1,000-foot buffer between homes, schools, parks and hospitals. Local public health and environmental groups, however, say that the updates don’t go far enough in regulating new wells and that they allow companies to continue working on wells drilled under the old rules.

Adam Briggle, a University of North Texas philosophy professor who has pushed for stricter regulations, said he’s particularly concerned about the construction of neighborhoods a few hundred feet away from existing wells. The city’s buffer rules apply only to new wells — not new buildings.

“It’s frustrating,” said Briggle, whose blog broke the news about Denton’s restraining order request.

EagleRidge received permits from the Railroad Commission of Texas and Denton’s fire department, according to Denton's complaint, but the company never applied for a gas well “site plan,” which the city requires before drilling. According to the city's complaint, EagleRidge apparently thought a permit from an 11-year-old well nearby granted it permission to drill the new wells, which sit fewer than 600 feet from two neighborhoods.

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