As reported in The Wall Street Journal, there is a fight brewing today in Denton, Texas — a fight over fracking. Yes, voters in this City of about 123,000 people at the north end of the Dallas–Fort Worth metroplex — which sits on top of the Barnett Shale — are heading to the polls today to vote on a ballot initiative to ban fracking in the City. Those who monitor developments relating to hydraulic fracturing, or “fracking,” should pay close attention to the outcome of this vote, which is expected to be close. If the ban is implemented, it could galvanize fracking opponents in other locations under the belief that “if we can do it in Texas, we can do it anywhere.”
The proposed voter initiative is fairly straightforward: “Shall an ordinance be enacted prohibiting, within the corporate limits of the city of Denton, Texas, hydraulic fracturing, a well stimulation process involving the use of water, sand and/or chemical additives pumped under high pressure to fracture subsurface non-porous rock formations such as shale to improve the flow of natural gas, oil, or other hydrocarbons into the well, with subsequent high rate, extended flowback to expel fracture fluids and solids?”
At issue in Denton are the so-called “practical inconveniences” of living near a drill site: noise, fumes, truck traffic, accidents, health concerns, and anxiety over property values. Those concerns are bumping up against the economic benefits of drilling in the area, including jobs and tax revenue. For some, the choice between support and opposition for fracking comes down to whether they own their properties’ mineral rights and are therefore entitled to a share of the profits from extracting natural gas. Support for the ban is being led by the Denton Drilling Awareness Group. The group’s web page is available here. Opposition to the ban is being led by Denton Taxpayers for a Strong Economy. Their web page is available here. The group argues that a ban would be irresponsible, costing the city millions of dollars in revenue and leading to expensive lawsuits.
One thing is sure. These local fights about fracking will only continue to escalate; according to The Wall Street Journal, increasing numbers of Americans—more than 15 million—live within a mile of a fracked oil or gas well. As the WSJ noted, “[i]f the ban passes, antifracking groups around the country doubtless will tout the vote as a big victory for their cause.” This is particularly so, since a ban in Texas — a state with a deep history in energy production — could motivate other municipalities in Texas and elsewhere with relatively less ties to energy.