Three protesters opposed to the resumption of hydraulic fracturing in Denton were arrested early Monday after blocking the entrance to a natural gas well site.
Adam Briggle, Tara Linn Hunter and Nikki Chochrek were arrested without incident shortly before 8 a.m. after staging a sit-in that blocked the entrance of the well site operated by Vantage Energy in northwest Denton. About 20 other protesters had gathered at the site.
Vantage became the first company to resume drilling in Denton after Gov. Greg Abbott signed a bill last month that outlaws prohibitions against hydraulic fracturing, or “fracking,” such as the ban passed by Denton voters in November.
“It just became obvious that we had exhausted all legal means to block fracking and that this unjust law is being forced on a community that voted it out,” said Hunter, who along with Chochrek is a member of the musical group The Frackettes. “We saw that it was about to happen so we decided it was more important to do what was right than go along.”
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Briggle, Hunter and Chochrek were charged with criminal trespass, a Class B misdemeanor, and were released on $500 personal recognizance, said officer Ryan Grelle, spokesman for the Denton Police Department.
“We asked them three times to leave. They were given a written warning and when they didn’t do anything they were arrested,” Grelle said. “They didn’t give us any trouble.”
Nancy Farrar, a spokeswoman for Vantage, said that the protest didn’t “significantly affect our operations” but that company officials are “undecided on whether they will pursue charges.”
The protest didn’t surprise city officials, who are scheduled to discuss the future of the much-maligned ban at the Denton City Council meeting Tuesday night.
It is possible that the council, which says the ban is now unenforceable because of the passage of House Bill 40, may repeal it, city spokeswoman Lindsey Baker said.
“They want us to enforce it but with HB40 on the books we can’t,” Baker said.
House Bill 40 reasserts the state's control over oil and gas drilling. It prohibits cities from banning hydraulic fracturing, giving them only limited control over the oil and gas process within their city limits. The push for the bill came after Denton became the first Texas city to ban fracking.
Denton was sued by the Texas Oil and Gas Association and the Texas General Land Office over the ban. Attorneys monitoring the cases in Denton County civil court said the lawsuits are likely to be dismissed.
Briggle, an associate professor at the University of North Texas in Denton, is president of the Denton Drilling Awareness Group, the grassroots group that pushed for the ban.
As Frackettes, Hunter and Chochrek wrote and performed two satirical songs poking fun at politicians and the industry over the ban.
Hunter said it was her first arrest. Though she was in custody only about three hours, she said the experience was exhausting.
Asked if her mother knew she had been arrested, Hunter, a music teacher, said no.
“I haven’t told her yet. That’s my next phone call,” she said.
Max B. Baker, 817-390-7714