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Pro-Fracking Camp Outspending Opponents in Denton, TX

Supporters of Barnett Shale drilling and hydraulic fracturing (fracking) in Denton, TX, have far outraised and outspent their anti-fracking opponents one month before the town's citizens are to vote on a measure that would ban fracking within the city limits.

Pro-fracking group Denton Taxpayers for a Strong Economy had raised $231,063 and spent $185,758.66, according to documents filed with the city of Denton. Anti-fracking group Pass the Ban had raised $50,970.40 and spent $8,457.67. The pro-fracking camp raised 4.5 times as much as the anti-frackers and has spent so far nearly 22 times as much.

The disclosure document for Pass the Ban runs to 19 pages and mostly contains the names of private citizens and small businesses, the vast majority of them in Denton. However, making multiple line-item appearances is Washington, DC-based environmental group Earthworks, which made in-kind contributions worth $29,655.93 (58.2% of the total raised by Pass the Ban) for t-shirts, postcards, yard signs, billboards, flyers, mailers and web design. Earthworks is the only environmental group listed in the disclosure.

Pro-fracking contributions are fewer in number and larger in amount, requiring six pages to disclose. Two individuals listed have Denton addresses. Others have out-of-town addresses, and some are from out of state. Contributions from three producers account for nearly all of the total amount raised (97.4%). Contributing $75,000 each were Devon Energy Corp., XTO Energy Inc. and EnerVest Operating. The three producers have gas wells in Denton and pay taxes on those wells. The Texas Alliance of Energy Producers contributed $5,000.

"Ninety-eight percent of all our funding comes from individuals and businesses who pay taxes in the city of Denton," said Bobby Jones, treasurer of Denton Taxpayers for a Strong Economy, who himself has contributed $500 to the pro-fracking campaign. "According to early reports, over 60% of the pro-ban group's funding is coming from extreme liberal fringe groups out of Washington, DC."

Denton Taxpayers said in July it had gathered more than 8,000 signatures from Denton residents on a petition in "support of responsible drilling and opposing an outright drilling ban."

That same month, the Denton City Council voted to nix a ban on fracking and instead put the issue before voters on Nov. 4 (see Shale DailyJuly 16). That council meeting drew more than 500 attendees, both for and against fracking. Anti-frackers had gathered nearly 2,000 signatures on their petition to ban the practice.

Much of the unrest over fracking and drilling is related to the proximity to homes of some drilling operations. EagleRidge Energy LLC affiliate EagleRidge Operating has been re-drilling old vertical underperforming shallow wells, drilling them deeper and horizontally and targeting the Barnett Shale. While the wells were lying dormant, housing developments went up next to them. The city tried to stop the new drilling with a restraining order but was thwarted in court.

EagleRidge is drilling under grandfathered permits that were issued by the municipal fire department, before the city had an oil/gas division (see Shale DailyApril 10).

The fracking issue has spawned the most expensive campaign in the city's history, according to a report in the Denton Record-Chronicle.

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