Sometimes it takes a little plant food to get a grassroots network to grow.
Two years ago, after Texas lawmakers passed House Bill 40 limiting local control over oil and gas activity, activists pledged to form what they called the Texas Grassroots Network to monitor the energy industry and find ways to influence public policy — locally and statewide.
Well, the idea didn’t take root, mostly because the drop in drilling activity made it hard to get people interested, said Sharon Wilson, regional organizer for Earthworks, an environmental advocacy group.
They couldn’t even get things together in time for the current Texas legislative session, which is scheduled to wrap up at the end of the month, she said. As a result, two bills backed by activists didn’t make it very far, Wilson said.
But now drilling activity is coming back — particularly in the Permian Basin in West Texas — so Wilson and about 25 of her colleagues were gathering at a Dallas hotel this weekend to learn more about community organizing tools and how to network.
“We’re looking to get back local control,” Wilson said. “People all over the state feel like industry has overstepped … People want to decide for themselves what is best for their families.”
On the agenda are topics like ‘Developing an issue campaign: Failure to plan means planning to fail,’ ‘Understanding, mapping and analyzing power relationships,’ and ‘Building and maintaining healthy local groups.’
A more active organization may have helped bills like one sponsored by state Rep. Terry Canales that would have allowed cities to prevent a new oil or gas well from being drilled within 1,500 feet of a school or child-care facility. There also was legislation filed by state Sen. Judith Zaffirini, D-Laredo, calling for a similar setback plus a hearing at the Texas Railroad Commission, which regulates the oil and gas industry.
Both bills died without a vote, she said.
“We do know that pressuring the representatives and senators works and if they don’t respond they can be replaced,” Wilson said. “We’ll be giving these groups the tools to stay connected and work together to get back some local control and bring some balance back.”