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Texas Town Lifts Moratorium But Raises Bar for Wells

A moratorium on natural gas well permitting in Flower Mound, TX, is to end Friday, but those applying to drill in the affluent Barnett Shale town from now on will face some tough new requirements recently approved by the Flower Mound Town Council.

The requirement for setbacks from natural gas wells has been increased from 500 feet to 1,500 feet for residences with mineral interests and from 1,000 feet to 1,500 feet for residences without mineral interests. The setback for schools, religious institutions, public parks, hospitals and water wells increased from 1,000 feet to 1,500 feet, and from 500 feet to 750 feet for property lines, floodplains and public roads or rights-of-way.

The setback requirements are just part of two new ordinances adopted by the Town Council last week after more than a year of public input and review. Changes to previous ordinances resulted from the work of a volunteer Oil and Gas Advisory Board (OGAB), public hearings, expert testimony, legal review and Town Council input.

"As far as I know, that's the longest setback requirement in the Barnett Shale of any municipality...I don't know how many drill sites or potential drill sites might still be available in Flower Mound with a 1,500-foot setback, but I think there's no question that will reduce the number of potential drilling sites, which means that will reduce access to the mineral rights of potentially a great many mineral owners. That's problematic," Ed Ireland, executive director of the industry-friendly Barnett Shale Energy Education Council, told NGI's Shale Daily. "That basically is a taking of the property rights of mineral owners who can no longer have their minerals developed."

Besides the setback increases, the Oil and Gas Well Ordinance also increases monitoring requirements and those for emergency plans and administrative approvals of wells.

Monitoring requirements include water well testing, pre- and post-drilling soil sampling, continued air quality monitoring by the town, and the establishment of daytime and nighttime noise levels with mitigation procedures for drilling, hydraulic fracturing and production operations. In addition, emergency plans must now include provisions for residential evacuation and the installation of an audible alarm to signal drops in pressure, the release of gas or a fire.

Wells qualifying for administrative approval must now undergo a public review process with notification sent to nearby property owners. Ireland said such a regulatory requirement is not uncommon in Barnett Shale communities.

The new Pipeline Ordinance repealed the specific use permit process for centralized facilities and replaced it with a zoning amendment. Zoning amendments require review by and public hearings before the Planning and Zoning Commission and the Town Council. If a zoning amendment is approved, thereafter a specific use permit is required, with review and public hearings before the Planning and Zoning Commission and Town Council.

The vote in favor of the new rules was 4-0 with Council member Kendra Stephenseon abstaining. In remarks prior to the vote, Stephenson said she would like for the Town Council to gather more input on the measures. "It is...clear that independent experts from academia or government regulatory agencies did not present information to OGAB or the Town Council despite requests by OGAB," she said.

"On many levels, the ordinances have been improved, including stronger insurance requirements and the ability to require the implementation of emission control devices when deemed necessary. Flower Mound can also be proud that OGAB searched to find reasonable justification for our increased setback requirements."

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