A newly formed group of citizens in Denton, TX, which sits the northern edge of the Barnett Shale, said Tuesday it is gathering signatures for a ballot initiative that basically would ban unconventional drilling by banning new wells from performing hydraulic fracturing (fracking) within the city limits.

According to the nonprofit Denton Drilling Awareness Group (DDAG), if voters approve the measure Denton would become the first major city in Texas to ban fracking, and the first city in the United States to ban the practice after previously allowing it.

The proposed ordinance would amend Chapter 16 of the city's code, which covers licenses, permits and business regulation. Fracking would be banned, but oil and gas drilling would not be prohibited, and existing oil and gas wells drilled in the city would not be affected. The proposal would also repeal any ordinance, order or resolution previously passed by the city that runs afoul of the proposed frack ban.

DDAG said the city would also be required to review existing gas drilling permits to determine whether the ban on fracking should apply to them.

"We are out of options," said DDAG member Cathy McMullen. "The city is allowing fracking to happen right in our backyards. When fracking-impacted residents call with problems, the city passes the buck."

The groups said it needs to gather 571 signatures within 180 days for the issue to appear on the ballot.

Data from the City of Denton's Gas Well Inspections Division shows that there are currently 275 active gas wells within the city limits, and another 212 within its Extra Territorial Jurisdiction (ETJ), a five-mile buffer zone that surrounds the city. Nineteen operators are active in the city, including Atlas Energy Inc., Devon Energy Corp., EnerVest Ltd. and XTO Energy Inc., a subsidiary of ExxonMobil Corp.

Last October, the city filed a restraining order against one operator, EagleRidge Energy LLC, for allegedly drilling two gas wells that violated the city's 1,200-foot setback requirement. The city subsequently withdrew the request and in November entered into a "standstill agreement" with the company "to allow the parties an opportunity to engage in global settlement negotiations as it concerns unresolved issues between them."

Under the agreement, EagleRidge agreed not to drill any new wells, redrill or conduct fracking operations at any wells within the city limits, but it specifically excluded 12 existing wells. The standstill period was set to expire on Jan. 31.

In a blog post, EagleRidge COO Mark Grawe said "a great start toward developing a dialog to understand the issues concerning fracking and the drilling of gas wells" was underway in Denton, but suggested that opponents to fracking consider the legal ramifications of a ban.

"I certainly don't remember anything in the [U.S.] Constitution that indicates some property rights may not be permitted," Grawe wrote. "To the contrary, the Constitution is intended for all rights to be exhausted but not to the detriment of others. To ban fracking or gas well drilling would clearly be considered a taking under the 14th Amendment, which would enable any company or person that suffers such a taking to make a claim against the party that causes such a taking."