Fracking set to resume in Denton after new state law

Grassroots activist Cathy McMullen, who led a push to ban fracking in Denton, says there is nothing city officials can do.
Grassroots activist Cathy McMullen, who led a push to ban fracking in Denton, says there is nothing city officials can do. Star-Telegram

Six months after voters made it the first Texas town to ban hydraulic fracturing, Denton is poised to be fracked again.

Vantage Energy plans to resume fracking operations at eight gas wells in the city June 1, the Colorado-based operator has told city officials. And it plans to frack at least eight more wells later in the year — flouting the town’s ban on the technique of blasting apart shale to bolster petroleum production.

The city won’t stand in the company’s way, Denton officials announced Friday, saying the state’s new drilling law, House Bill 40, blocks them from enforcing the ban.

“The hydraulic fracturing ban has, in our opinion, been rendered unenforceable by the State of Texas in HB 40,” the city said in a news release. “The City of Denton, however, will continue to regulate other surface activities related to drilling operations per our existing oil and gas well drilling ordinance.”

Gov. Greg Abbott signed the law Monday, pre-empting all local efforts to regulate various drilling activities.

HB40 was intended to clarify where local control ends and Texas law begins. It cruised through the Legislature — the most prominent of the flurry of measures filed in response to Denton’s vote to ban hydraulic fracturing.

Nearly 59 percent of voters supported the ban in November, even though oil and gas interests vastly outspent the ban’s backers.

There are rumblings about town that some residents — unhappy with the city’s decision to stand down — plan to protest around the Vantage well sites. But Cathy McMullen, a home-health nurse who organized the push against fracking, said she does not blame city officials.

“Really, their heart’s in the right place,” she said. “They’re upset about it, but there’s just nothing they can do.”

Vantage Energy did not return phone calls seeking comment.

Denton’s announcement does not help its chances as it defends its fracking ban in court — if litigation even continues.

The Texas Oil and Gas Association, the state’s largest petroleum group, and the Texas General Land Office each sued Denton hours after the November votes were tallied, calling the ban unconstitutional.

Denton officials have not said how they will proceed.

“We are currently seeking resolution and are in continuing discussions with all parties involved,” city spokeswoman Lindsey Baker said Friday.