Officials in Denton, Texas, voted Wednesday against a bid to make their natural-gas-rich city the first in its state to ban fracking, despite more than 100 residents speaking out in favor of the ban at a public hearing that ran long into Tuesday night.
Some locals said the City Council’s 5–2 decision against enacting the ban — instead passing it to a November ballot for a citywide vote — was influenced by industry pressure.
Industry representatives who attended Tuesday’s meeting said that enacting a ban would only be followed by litigation. Texas separates land ownership into two categories, surface and mineral estates, both of which are protected in the state’s constitution. The mineral estate is considered “dominant,” which means, in cases where surface and mineral rights are split between two owners, the mineral owner is allowed to use the surface “reasonably” as needed for mineral exploration, development and production.
Critics of the proposed ban argue that a blanket forbidding of drilling within the municipality would infringe on mineral owners’ right to develop those resources.
“It’s a high-stakes game. This issue is going to be decided in one of two places: the statehouse or the courthouse,” Mayor Watts told the Texas Tribune. Watts did not respond to a request for comment from Al Jazeera by publication.
Barry Smitherman, Chairman of the Texas Railroad Commission, which regulates oil and gas, wrote to the Denton City Council saying that the ban would “increase America’s dependence” on foreign oil and natural gas.
But years of failed attempts to reign in drilling through stricter regulations on where it can take place within city limits caused the city’s residents to consider an all-out ban. In order to put forth a ballot initiative, anti-fracking residents needed to gather 571 signatures. Instead, the petition, organized by local anti-fracking group Denton Drilling Awareness Group, gathered nearly 2,000.
Wilson said that during the meeting, industry voices “insulted residents’ intelligence” by saying there had never been a case of water contamination and speaking about how highly regulated the fracking industry is — claims Wilson said both she and other Denton residents found “ridiculous.”
“No one in Texas was against fracking when it started. All this opposition is because industry cannot and will not follow the rules,” Wilson said. “They promised to do it right, but I’ve come to know after a decade of this that they are not capable of doing it right. And that’s why they are experiencing a backlash. It’s not because we are scared or stupid, it’s because of our direct experience.”
Devon Energy Corporation, active for years in Denton, declined to comment, deferring to trade organizations. The trade organizations representing local industry interests were also not available for comment at time of publication.
With wire services