Denton, Texas Dents Fracking Plans

Voters in Denton, Texas overwhelmingly passed a resolution on November 4th that will ban fracking within city limits, a first for the state. With more than 59% of the nearly 26,000 votes, fracking opponents ensured that their displeasure with the practice was more than symbolic. Denton is where hydraulic fracturing was invented and the city received more than $30 million in profits from it last year. However, residents are concerned about their health and safety, and cite an uptick in noise, truck traffic, and water scarcity. Frack Free Denton is a non-profit geared towards educating residents about the dangers of fracking, believing it should be banned until it can be proven safe. President Cathy McMullen said,

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.

Denton has more than 270 wells across its neighborhoods, and sits on top of one of the state’s largest natural gas reserves. Plans to derail fracking inside the town began heavily in June when a petition from residents went before the city council. The issue then went to a public vote after the council rejected it.

Denton Mayor Chris Watts, in support of the residents, said, “As I have stated numerous times, the democratic process is alive and well in Denton. Hydraulic fracturing, as determined by our citizens, will be prohibited in the Denton city limits.”

Image courtesy of wfaa.com

Image courtesy of wfaa.com


Will it hold up?

Though the ban is monumental in a state whose economy thrives on the harvesting of fossil fuels, industry groups are expected to defend their mineral rights with lawsuits. The city will not attempt to shut down pre-existing drilling permits; it only bans fracking within those wells. Energy companies will likely not continue working with those wells if they cannot access the greater amounts of gas that the fracking process allows. “It’s essentially a ban on all drilling,” said Ed Ireland, executive director of the Barnett Shale Energy Education Council. “No one would try to drill a well if they can’t frack it, and that will unleash a torrent of lawsuits.”

The gas industry insists that fracking is safe and offers a cleaner energy source than oil or coal. Will the city be able to survive with a ban that eliminates the single reason for its driving force over the last decade? It’s hard to tell. Industries own the wells and have invested significant time and money into the area, and energy companies will argue that the state’s drilling regulations have precedence over an individual city’s laws. Lawsuits could effectively cripple the economy of Denton.

The Texas Tribune reports that industry groups raised more than ten times the amount of money (nearly $700,000) that the ban’s supporters did in the week before the vote. That is indeed impressive. However, it will be interesting to see if the word of the people will hold up after the industry inevitably does its best to shut it down.

Local fracking ban attempts are nothing new. Cities in New York and Colorado have already initiated bans, but have run into lawsuits. Ohio and California attempted similar bans on Tuesday night with varying success.

What it means

Though the ban may eventually be overturned, or at least held up in litigation for years, applause needs to be given to the city of Denton and its residents for making such a strong decision on their health and future. The fact that grassroots organizations stand up to powers greater than they can ever hope to be, and enact legislation that improves the quality of life for their communities, is a noble and valiant undertaking.



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