A gas well in southern Denton

City leaders agreed to outsource gas well inspection services for at least another year after reviewing the work provided so far by a Colleyville firm.

Principal and program manager Kenneth Tramm laid out the work his firm, Modern Geosciences, did this year during a work session with the Denton City Council on Tuesday afternoon.

The discussion was part of the council’s continuing budget talks for 2018-19, which got testy later in the afternoon.

The City Council agreed last year to contract with the firm to supplement the city’s department, which still has just one full-time inspector. Council member Paul Meltzer had pressed for the additional inspections as part of his campaign last year.

“We are miles ahead of where we were,” Meltzer said Tuesday afternoon. “These are great strides.”

But, he added, he wasn’t sure that many Denton residents knew whether their home, workplace or child’s school was close to a gas well and what kind of information there was available from the city.

There are nearly 500 gas wells inside the city limits or in Denton’s extraterritorial jurisdiction.

A city website maps the locations and collects information about each well site. The city classifies 58 of those well sites as “high priority,” because the wells stand within 300 feet of a school, home or business, including the gas well sites on the grounds of Guyer High School.

Inspectors with Modern Geosciences visited all 189 well sites that stand 1,000 feet or less from a Denton home, school or business.

Tramm said his inspectors found hundreds of issues, small and large, that needed to be addressed this year.

The most common problems were equipment leaking natural gas into the atmosphere, corroded equipment and equipment contaminated by NORM that needed to be labeled.

NORM is naturally occurring radioactive material. Small amounts of radioactive material travel up oil and gas wells with the natural gas and get deposited on the production equipment.

Over months and years, the radioactivity builds up with the scaly deposits. Once the radioactivity reaches a certain level, the equipment must be tagged so workers can use protective gear and metal recyclers can know of the need to treat the scale.

Otherwise, the metal could end up recycled without treatment. NORM-contaminated pipe has been found in horse fencing, playgrounds and other equipment. A Louisiana town had ballfield bleachers from NORM-contaminated pipe, Tramm said.

Council member Don Duff asked whether any of the leaks were large. Tramm said about 10 percent of the leaks his firm found were very large.

To find the leaks, the firm uses sophisticated — and expensive — imaging cameras that neither the city nor some gas production companies own.

However, all of the leaks have been fixed, Tramm said.

When an inspector found a problem, the firm gave the operator about two weeks to address the problem. Most problems were addressed within that time frame or soon after, Tramm said.

When the firm prepared its 2018 summary report for the city, the city staff noted that about 13 percent of the issues remained unaddressed. A city inspector followed up and the rest of the items were resolved, Tramm said.

However, he recommended that inspectors revisit one production site off Ryan Road. Inspectors found a compressor on the site did not comply with the city’s noise ordinance. To make a full report, however, the inspectors needed to take readings from the house nearest the compressor.

The house was vacant at the time of the inspection. Although the inspectors have the authority, they prefer to have the property owner’s permission to take readings at the fence line, Tramm said.

He also recommended that next year the contract include special inspections for gas well sites after the wells are plugged. Several gas wells were plugged and abandoned in Denton last year.

Operators plug unprofitable wells according to state rules. A city inspection can address other concerns that aren’t addressed by state rules, Tramm said.

Budget battles

Council members did not take up a scheduled item on helping the city’s homeless population, setting up a skirmish that bubbled for the rest of the afternoon.

Community activists continue to press City Hall for a basic service center for the city’s growing homeless population. The effort is separate from other assistance and services being developed in a partnership with the United Way of Denton County.

Mayor Chris Watts was absent from the meeting. When he realized he wouldn’t make it back in time, he sent word that he would like the presentation and discussion be postponed to next week. Mayor pro tem John Ryan postponed the item and then called a short break.

After the break, council member Deb Armintor asked to discuss the basic service center proposal without the mayor, since no vote was planned. Council member Keely Briggs said she was fine with discussing the matter now or later. But Ryan polled the other council members and the remainder sided with the mayor’s request to postpone.

Later, in the middle of budget talks about Denton Municipal Electric, council member Gerard Hudspeth challenged criticisms that Armintor has made of parks department expenditures vis-a-vis the needs of the city’s homeless population.

“There’s a window to bring forward budget items, and that window is now,” Hudspeth said, adding that he wanted council members to stop criticizing an expenditure without also bringing a solution, although he did not address Armintor directly.

(Earlier in the afternoon work session, longtime Denton attorney Richard Hayes, an expert on parliamentary procedure, delivered a primer on Robert’s Rules of Order and other council rules of procedure. He reminded council members that addressing each other directly violates rules of decorum.)

To answer the criticism, Armintor again asked to talk about the basic service center for the homeless, but no one responded to her request.

At the very end of the budget presentations, Meltzer said one council member’s budget priority is another’s budget excess.

Avoiding addressing Hudspeth directly, he went on.

“I’d like to ask, rhetorically, why only on this issue we must put up or shut up,” Meltzer said.

He believed the council needed to hear the full report on the activists’ request, just as it has received full information on many other issues before making a decision, he said.

No council member was opposed to dog parks or wanted to spend taxpayer money in excess, he said.

“End of speech,” he added.

PEGGY HEINKEL-WOLFE can be reached at 940-566-6881 and via Twitter at @phwolfeDRC.

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