Texas Legislature Bans Municipal Fracking Bans

The Texas Legislature has responded to a voter referendum to ban fracking in Denton, Texas, by approving the “Denton Fracking Bill,” which would impose a ban on municipal fracking bans. It effectively squashes the vote in Denton against fracking.

Gov. Greg Abbott (R-Texas) is expected to sign the legislation.

Fracking, or hydraulic fracturing, is the processing of drilling and injecting fluid into the ground at high pressure to break up or fracture shale rocks and release natural gas inside the rocks.

Anti-frackers have blamed the process for causing earthquakes and numerous other environmental, health and safety problems. Industry proponents say fracking is what has made U.S.-based companies strong players in the world’s energy markets.

The citizens of Denton, Texas, started this debate of just how homegrown fracking regulations should be, when they approved a ban on fracking in the community about 40 miles northwest of Dallas.

It was the first time any community anywhere in Texas had the nerve to go up against the state’s oil and natural gas industry — the state’s top jobs provider —not only to put this proposal on the ballot, but to also succeed so grandly. The margin of approval was 59 percent to 41 percent in the November 2014 election.

"I've seen the power of a grass-roots movement. I've seen the power of talking to my neighbors. I've seen the power of working together on a local level and really taking charge. This is a mandate from the people of Denton," Tara Linn Hunter told KDFW-TV while watching the returns come in with fellow supporters in Denton.

The Texas Oil & Gas Association and the Texas Land Commission went to court the next morning to block it.

Land Commissioner Jerry Patterson released a statement saying he not only thought the Denton fracking ban was unconstitutional, he also considered it to be a threat to the schoolchildren of Texas “who earn hundreds of millions of dollars a year on oil and gas production on Permanent School Fund lands.”

State Rep. Drew Darby (R) went to bat against the Denton fracking ban almost as quickly in the Texas House. And while he was at it, Darby figured he might as well make sure no town or city in Texas ever tried this again.

He argued in the preamble of HB 40 it was in the best interest of Texas not to have a hodgepodge of local regulations that would leave the oil and gas industry wondering where they can frack and where they can’t frack.

Darby also wrote that the oil and gas industry has been nothing but good for the Lone Star State.

The Texas Oil & Gas Association immediately came out in support of Darby’s legislation.

“HB 40 enjoys widespread support because the legislation provides cities with authority to reasonably regulate surface level oil and gas activities, while affirming that regulation of oil and gas operations like fracking and production is under the exclusive jurisdiction of the state. HB 40 is a fair bill that balances local control and property rights,” said Todd Staples, the president of the Texas Oil & Gas Association.

“Smart oil and natural gas policy is essential for safety, for jobs, for Texas. In addition to its long track record for safe and responsible production, the oil and natural gas industry pays billions of dollars in annual state and local taxes that directly fund our schools, roads and essential services,” Staples added.

He also pointed to the importance of the oil and gas industry to the Texas economy.