Just seven months after voters in Denton, Texas, approved a measure banning hydraulic fracturing within city limits, the Denton City Council voted 6 to 1 to repeal the ban.
Council members called the move a “strategic repeal” after plaintiffs in two pending lawsuits seeking to invalidate the ban amended their complaints to invoke a recently enacted Texas law that bars local ordinances that prevent hydraulic fracturing and other drilling activities.
That law, H.B. 40, was signed into law by Governor Gregg Abbott in late May and gave the state government “exclusive jurisdiction” to regulate oil and gas operations. In response, the Texas General Land Office and the Texas Oil and Gas Association amended their pending lawsuits, arguing that H.B. 40’s shift in regulatory power overrides Denton’s voter-approved ban. Both plaintiffs are also seeking to reverse a separate moratorium on new drilling permits in Denton.
Rather than take on the new state law, the Denton City Council opted to withdraw the hydraulic fracturing ban. Denton Mayor Chris Watts—one of the six council members to vote for the repeal—called it “one of the most difficult decisions” of his career.
Close to 60 Texas municipalities currently have laws limiting oil and gas drilling activities that may be affected by H.B. 40. It remains to be seen whether other municipalities—particularly those facing expensive legal challenges—will follow Denton’s lead in repealing limits on hydraulic fracturing.