Among the lesser covered stories from election day 2014 is this one: voters in Denton, Texas banned fracking within the city limits. Denton is the town where modern fracking was invented. According to Raw Story, Bruce Baizel, energy program director for the environmental group Earthworks, says, “If this place in the heart of the oil and gas industry can’t live with fracking, then who can?”
Denton is a city of about 113,000, located just north of Dallas. Loren Steffy writes at Forbes that while fracking has been used for a long time, it was oil man George P. Mitchell who developed the current process of using a mix of water, sand, and chemicals. Mitchell’s process was first used on the Barnett Shale formation that sits near Denton. Today, Steffy says, Denton has 272 fracking wells within the city limits.
The proposal to ban fracking passed with the approval of about 59 percent of the voters. Steffy calls this the “ultimate NIMBY (not in my back yard) case.” The Texas Tribune says advocates for the ban called it a “last ditch effort” to address issues with noise and toxic fumes from fracking sites that can be found nearby to houses, schools, and parks. Cathy McMullen, president of Frack Free Denton, says,
It means we don’t have to worry about what our kids are breathing at city playgrounds. It means we don’t have to worry about our property value taking a nose dive because frackers set up shop 200 feet away.
Part of the problem in Denton, Steffy says, is the callous attitude of the oil industry. Denton enacted a 1,200 foot setback between homes and fracking wells. But some oil companies argued that because their permits were issued before the law was passed, they didn’t have to abide by it. Cathy McMullin issued a statement telling drilling companies what they need to do if they want to be better neighbors.
If you want to prevent more bans, especially in towns that know drilling best, do yourselves a favor and listen to concerned citizens. Because if you don’t, you may wind up reaping what you’ve sown.
Denton’s fracking ban will be challenged
The Texas Tribune says that energy companies will almost certainly appeal the ban, and they are likely to win. They will likely argue that Denton is seizing mineral rights, which have always been dominant in Texas law. Several state legislators have also vowed to fight the ban. Texas State Railroad Commissioner, David Porter, a Republican, issued the following statement on Tuesday evening.
As the senior energy regulator in Texas, I am disappointed that Denton voters fell prey to scare tactics and mischaracterizations of the truth in passing the hydraulic fracturing ban. Bans based on misinformation — instead of science and fact — potentially threaten this energy renaissance and as a result, the well-being of all Texans.
Opponents of the ban poured almost $800,000 into fighting it, only to come out losers at the polls. The Denton Record says that pro-ban forces had only raised $74,924 as of a week ago. This shows that a solid cause and motivated voters can win out over big money, but, unfortunately for the residents of Denton, the ban is likely to be lifted before it can be put into place. Defeating money at the ballot box is one thing, but defeating it in court is another. The oil and gas industry has what in essence is unlimited money to spend in court, in order to get their way. That money will likely soon overcome the resources of the pro-ban forces.
Frack Free Denton president McMullen has stern words for politicians who choose to side with the energy industry on the issue. On the group’s website she writes:
We know the oil and gas industry is going to try to use our own state government against us by directing its paid flunkies to overturn the ban in the legislature. To them I say, if you vote to overturn this ban, never again say you’re against big government. Because politicians didn’t pass this ban. This ban is the voice of the citizens of Denton speaking directly to the fracking industry, and local, state and national government: WE HAVE HAD ENOUGH.
So try to overturn it if you will. But know that if you do, you are on the side of corporate interests and against the people.
Denton, Texas, wasn’t the only community with a fracking ban on the ballot. Bans were passed in Athens, Ohio, and in Mendocino and San Benito counties, California. Similar bans were rejected in Santa Barbara County, California, as well as Youngstown, Kent, and Gates Mills, Ohio.[Photo by Cooper Neill]