In a stunning win in my hometown of Denton, Texas, voters approved a measure by a whopping 59% to 41% to ban hydraulic fracturing within city limits. The first of its kind in the state. The grassroots organization that fought the Goliath oil and gas industry spent, from one count, roughly $75,000 to the industry’s $700,000 plus, with most of that money coming from the oil and gas companies.
For a progressive in a red state it was this win that had a settling effect on me considering the outcome in last night’s midterm elections. We’re stuck with politicians in all major offices with candidates that are more extreme in their views than I believe the state has ever seen. The effect of this means, among other things, less chance of lower-income people getting the health care coverage they need and women losing ground to their right to abort an unwanted pregnancy.
But out of that gloom comes this one ray of light that all rational thought is not missing in this state. Yes we received a lot of help from the college-age students in Denton but the final tally showed that out of the 15,000-plus votes cast to support the ban only 1920 of them came from college students. But many conservatives who voted to keep Texas in the 20th century on other major issues realized that the hazards we face when oil and gas drillers park their business next door to our homes and schools were willing to support the ban on fracking,
Now comes the fight threatened by the industry that would sue this city ordinance if it passed. Thankfully the city council anticipated this when they allowed the ban to go to the voters earlier this year and have set aside roughly $4 million to fight any challenge that would restrict or negate it. In a letter from Mayor Chris Watts it’s clear that they are willing to pick up any gauntlet the shale gas industry and its supporters throw down.
“As I have stated numerous times, the democratic process is alive and well in Denton. Hydraulic fracturing, as determined by our citizens, will be prohibited in the Denton city limits. The City Council is committed to defending the ordinance and will exercise the legal remedies that are available to us should the ordinance be challenged. The City Council is committed to continuing the review of our gas well ordinance to ensure the utmost health, safety, and welfare of our residents, and we will continue to work with industry representatives to ensure full compliance with our gas well drilling ordinance.”
The industry fears that this victory by concerned citizens in Denton will spread to other communities and thus become a death nail to the shale gas industry. I seriously doubt it. But it will send a strong signal that mineral property right owners cannot push around other property right owners and disregard the concerns we have for our health and our property values.
Had the industry and its supporters taken a more diplomatic path earlier and limited the distance they drilled in around homes, schools, hospitals and parks, this fracking ban would have never developed legs. So the frackers have only themselves to blame for arrogantly assuming that any opposition to them would never prevail.
Let’s hope this true grassroots efforts inspires others in their fights to battle the Goliaths that threaten the way of life for ordinary people with their deep pockets and their legislative cronies in state capitals everywhere.