Denton passes no fracking ordinance; state regulators say too bad, we're not enforcing it

This week the city of Denton, Texas, voted by a wide margin to ban fracking within the city limits. Two days later, the chairwoman of Texas’ oil and gas regulator said she would not honor the ban.

Texas Railroad Commission Chairwoman Christi Craddick told the Dallas Morning News that she would continue giving permits to oil and gas companies seeking to frack in Denton. Craddick asserted she could override the ban because Denton does not have authority over drilling activity in the state.

“It’s my job to give permits, not Denton’s,” Craddick said. “We’re going to continue permitting up there because that’s my job.”

Fracking — the process of injecting water, sand and chemicals underground to extract oil and gas from shale formations — has a long history in Denton, one of the most heavily-fracked towns in Texas. At the same time, residents have complained of poor air quality, disruptive noise in residential areas, and an increase in low-magnitude earthquakes.

Those were some of the reasons voters decided by a 59 to 41 margin on Tuesday to ban the practice. But the vote was met with swift opposition from the oil industry and the state, and by Wednesday afternoon, both the Texas Oil and Gas Association and the Texas General Land Office had filed lawsuits to prevent the city from enacting the ordinance.

Explaining her decision to continue giving oil and gas companies permits to drill in Denton, Railroad Commission Chairwoman Craddick also voiced opposition against the ban. She told the Dallas Morning News that the voters’ decision was likely based on “misinformation” about the potential dangers of fracking, and that the oil and gas industry should have done more to communicate with locals.

“We missed as far as an education process in explaining what fracking is, explaining what was going on,” she said. “And I think [the ban] is the result of that, in a lot of respects, and a lot of misinformation about fracking.”

However, education from the oil and gas industry seemed prolific in Denton in the months leading up to the vote. Indeed, the Dallas Morning News reported that the fracking ban represented the most expensive political campaign in Denton’s history, and most of the money came from the oil and gas industry.

Specifically, Dallas News reported that major oil and gas companies like Chevron, Enervest and XTO donated a combined $685,000 to influence the debate over the fracking ban, while environmentalists contributed about $24,000.

Denton is just one example of towns across the country that are fighting for what’s called “local control” over fracking. Towns advocating local control say that they — not their state government — should be able to decide the terms of unconventional oil and gas drilling in their communities. Opponents, namely the oil and gas industry, argue that only the state has that authority.


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