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Texas, Petroleum Industry Agree to Dismiss Lawsuits Against Denton

Now that Denton has repealed its ban on hydraulic fracturing and its ban on gas drilling has expired, lawyers for the oil and gas industry have agreed to drop their lawsuit against the city.

Vantage Energy on June 1, 2015 resumed hydraulic operations on a pad site on the western outskirts of Denton. It was the first company to frack within city limits after the Texas Legislature overturned the Denton’s ban on the process.

* Editor's note: This story has been updated throughout.

Now that Denton has repealed its ban on hydraulic fracturing and its ban on gas drilling has expired, lawyers for the oil and gas industry have agreed to drop their lawsuit against the city.

The Texas Oil and Gas Association (TXOGA) sued Denton in November 2014, challenging a city-wide ban on fracking supported by nearly 59 percent of Denton voters. Eventually, the lawsuit expanded to include a challenge to the city’s ban on new gas well drilling.

In April, when the Legislature passed House Bill 40 — effectively rendering Denton's ban unenforceable — TXOGA decided to continue with the lawsuit anyway. The Texas General Land Office, which manages the state’s mineral interests and had filed a similar lawsuit against Denton, pressed on as well. The city has paid more than $300,000 in gas well litigation expenses so far this fiscal year, according to the Denton city manager's office.

In June, Denton’s City Council voted 6-1 to repeal the unenforceable fracking ban — fracking had already resumed in the city — in an attempt to mitigate the city’s legal woes. The city’s moratorium on gas well drilling, in effect for just over a year, expired in August. With the two bans were officially off the books, TXOGA and the city jointly filed a motion to dismiss the lawsuit.

A district judge granted the motion on Sept. 4, writing that all claims are moot given that “no further extensions of the drilling moratorium have been passed on proposed by the city.”

Denton Mayor Chris Watts said Friday he wasn’t surprised the district judge agreed to dismiss the lawsuit.

“Any time you can resolve litigation amicably, that’s always a positive thing,” Watts said. The entire situation "is a disappointment; I’m just going to be truthful. But after the state came in and in a sense nullified the bans, the outcome was going to be the same no matter what.”

Going forward, Watts said, he hopes to see the state pick up the regulatory baton it claimed with House Bill 40’s passage.

“Let’s make sure they regulate it, and let’s make sure we’re taking care of business while balancing the health and safety of the community,” Watts said. “We’ll be willing to make suggestions to the Railroad Commission to seek their guidance and their assistance.”

The state’s Railroad Commission focuses on oil and gas regulation, as well as utilities and pipeline safety.

Todd Staples, TXOGA president, said in a statement that he was pleased with the outcome of the case.

“The oil and natural gas industry looks forward to continuing to responsibly partner with our fellow Texans as we grow our economy and protect our environment,” Staples said.

As part of the agreement to dismiss, both TXOGA and the city of Denton agreed to pay their own legal fees.

The General Land Office has also filed a motion to dismiss its lawsuit. That motion is still pending.

Disclosure: The Texas General Land Office has been a corporate sponsor of The Texas Tribune. A complete list of Tribune donors and sponsors can be viewed here. 

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