The city council of Denton, Texas rejected a proposed citywide ban on producing oil and natural gas through hydraulic fracturing techniques. Hydraulic fracturing, also known as fracking, entails injecting water, sand, and small amounts of other chemicals deep underground under high pressure to open seams in rock formations, thereby releasing oil and gas deposits for production.
Denton sits atop the Barnett shale formation, one of the most productive natural gas deposits in the nation.
Had the ban passed, it would have been historic, making Denton, a city of 121,000 people, the first Texas city to ban fracking. Having failed at the city council level, anti-fracking activists have put a fracking ban on the November ballot. To do so, the activists produced a petition signed by fewer than 2,000 people.
EPA Finds No Pollution
Frack-Free Denton, the group behind the petition, claims fracking jeopardizes the environment and can threaten human health. Federal, state, and local officials have tested thousands of water sites throughout the country near fracking sites. President Obama’s former EPA Administrator, Lisa Jackson, has repeatedly admitted under oath EPA has never identified a single instance of the fracking process polluting groundwater.
Gary Stone, vice-president of engineering for Five States Energy Capital, said, “Study after study shows fracking results in no health threats either from the process itself or from the production of oil and natural gas. If oil and gas production caused significant health problems, we should expect to see people in the Permian basin and Midland and Odessa constantly walking around in gas masks, if not full hazmat gear.”
Threatening Economic Opportunity
Should the voters approve the ban, Denton will have to forgo the billions of dollars in salaries, economic development, and tax revenue provided by oil and natural gas production.
“These unfounded concerns threaten not only tax revenues for the city, county, and state, but royalty payments to landowners as well,” Stone noted.
Kathleen White, director of the Armstrong Center for Energy & the Environment at the Texas Public Policy Foundation, agreed a fracking ban would be economically calamitous for Denton.
“A recent report by the Perryman Group estimated if Denton were to ban fracking, this would cost the city over 2,000 jobs and $254.1 million over the next 10 years,” said White.
Anti-fracking activists are hopeful about victory in the November election, while energy supporters express strong confidence voters will reject the ban.
Neither side, however, expects the vote to be the final word on the matter. If the ban passes, landowners, energy producers, and other groups will likely challenge the city’s authority to ban a practice authorized and regulated by the state. If the ban is rejected, anti-fracking activists and environmental groups will likely follow the example of activists in other states and take to the courts to challenge fracking.
H. Sterling Burnett, Ph.D. ([email protected]) writes from Dallas, Texas.