The battle has begun to restore Texas communities’ right to decide whether and how hydraulic fracturing of oil and gas wells should occur within their boundaries.
Ironically, the battle’s beginning is signaled by the city of Denton’s repeal of its fracking ban.
Denton voters passed a fracking ban ballot initiative last November with overwhelming majorities of both Republicans and Democrats.
It passed only after Denton residents and the city government tried for years, unsuccessfully, to work with industry and state government to clean up fracking-related development within city limits.
The Denton fracking ban frightened the oil and gas industry. If the city where fracking was invented could reject it, where they’d lived with hundreds of fracked wells for years and knew it best, any city could.
Acting from fear and using its typical bullying arrogance, the oil and gas industry — aided and abetted by the Texas Legislature and Gov. Greg Abbott with the passage of House Bill 40 — made illegal almost all community attempts to hold the industry accountable.
Because of HB40, attempts to defend the Denton ban in court would have been worse than futile.
Not only would we have lost, but in the process the court likely would have set a legal precedent that would make restoring community oversight of oil and gas development much, much harder.
Instead, we are moving forward with overturning HB40 by beating the oil and gas industry at its own game, in the Legislature.
Written by the oil and gas industry, for the oil and gas industry, HB40 makes that industry its own worst enemy.
HB40 leaves Texas communities completely dependent for protection upon state regulators, the Railroad Commission and the Commission on Environmental Quality.
With each new well blowout in our back yards, with each new confession by state regulators that they can’t be bothered to protect us, with each new frackquake, with each new scientific study showing fracking pollutes our air and water and harms our health, Texans’ patience with an oil and gas industry run amok is coming to an end.
As the state, now with sole responsibility for protecting communities from the oil and gas industry, confirms with its actions and inactions that it is unable or unwilling to do so, pressure builds to restore local control.
It’s already happening. University of Texas polling from earlier this year showed the majority of Texans support community control of fracking. Almost all major newspapers in the state editorialized against HB40 and for local control.
Denton’s fracking ban galvanized communities to try to protect themselves from one of the world’s dirtiest industries — not necessarily to ban fracking, but to hold the oil and gas industry accountable.
We are banding together with those communities to build a statewide coalition that, come the legislative session in 2017, we’ll be ready to tear HB40 down and restore community rights.
Part of this effort will be to hold our state legislators accountable.
Many representatives who voted for HB40 against their constituents’ interests and preferences hope to stay in office. They need to pay a price.
The growing coalition of communities fighting HB40 will help make sure they do.
With its disrespect for local democracy, the oil and gas industry and its state government advocates have sowed the wind. Soon, they will be forced to reap the whirlwind.
We believe it will be strong enough to blow HB40 right out of Texas law.
Adam Briggle is president of Denton Drilling Awareness Group, which led the effort for a hydraulic fracturing ban in Denton. Sharon Wilson is the Texas organizer for Earthworks.