Frack Free Denton Claims Broad Support as Texas Officials Reject Their Campaign

Tuesday, July 21, 2015

The Fort Worth Star-Telegram recently published an op-ed from Earthworks’ Sharon Wilson and Frack Free Denton’s Adam Briggle, two of the anti-energy organizers who led the push for a fracking ban in Denton. The activists are now looking to “build a statewide coalition” to fight fracking across Texas, claiming other cities are rising up to join their cause.
 

But Texas cities have actually refused to join their campaign, opting to support responsible energy production and rejecting “ban fracking” advocacy.

As Denton Mayor Chris Watts pointed out at the June 16th Denton City Council meeting, the city’s efforts to retain its drilling ban have not yielded much support from other cities. Denton officials and anti-fracking groups have been exploring how to fight against HB 40, a new law that, for the first time, gives cities explicit authorities to regulate oil and gas activity, while also protecting Texans’ property rights.  

“I'm gonna say this, and I’ve only been called by one mayor before the House Bill 40 got passed. But there has not been a stampede of communities beating my door down or blowing my phone up saying, ‘Hey, we're ready to stand with you.’” –Chris Watts, Mayor of Denton

Watts later added: “I’m just saying it’s not as if we as the City of Denton have received a lot of support.”  

Briggle and Wilson claimed to be working with a “growing coalition of communities fighting HB40,” but neglected to mention a single example.  

Meanwhile, elected officials across Texas have actually been defending HB 40. The law received strong support from Democrats and Republicans, passing both houses of the Texas legislature with a bipartisan, combined vote of 146 to 30. Two of the bill’s five cosponsors were Democrats, one of whom – Rep. Rene Oliveira – recently explained to the Brownsville Herald that HB 40 was necessary to address “a patchwork quilt of different cities doing different things” with oil and gas regulation.  

As several city officials from south and west Texas also recently wrote,  

House Bill 40 is good policy because it clarifies the role of cities and the state in regulating oil and gas operations, and ensures that individual Texans’ constitutional private property rights are protected.

“Until House Bill 40, some communities were attempting to use local ordinances to completely shut down oil and gas activity. Texas needs House Bill 40 to provide clarity about appropriate local regulation and to avoid a patchwork of unreasonable ordinances across the state, which would harm our economy and our energy security.” (emphasis added)

Those officials included voices from the heart of the Eagle Ford Shale, one of the most prolific oil fields in the United States, as well as residents of Midland and Lubbock. All of these areas have a long history of oil and gas development, and if Texas communities were dealing with the kinds of severe, existential threats that folks like Briggle and Wilson have claimed, they would be quite pronounced in these regions.  

If the activists cannot secure support from the places that know fracking best, then any “statewide coalition” against drilling that they may assemble will be more symbolic than substantive.  

Of course, this attempted “coalition” against drilling isn’t just about drilling. It’s also about stripping Texans of their private property rights, including the ability to produce oil and natural gas (also called minerals) on private land. As Tricia Davis, president of the Texas Royalty Council, recently pointed out:  

“More than 570,000 Texans are mineral owners with a Constitutional right to develop their minerals.  Outright or indirect bans on drilling infringe on private property rights of people like me and hundreds of thousands of other Texans. (emphasis added)

Davis also noted in a letter to the Denton Record-Chronicle:  

“This carefully constructed policy [HB 40] ensures that property rights are protected, while at the same time ensuring that all Texans continue to benefit from the billions of dollars in oil and gas tax revenue that directly fund our schools and roads every year.

“Local elected officials, community leaders and an overwhelming majority of the Texas House of Representatives support this legislation because it’s smart policy for our state.

We should applaud our lawmakers who, in the midst of misinformed shouting, heeded the voice of reason and made a common-sense decision for Texas.” (emphasis added)

In February, Rep. Phil King (R-Weatherford) wrote that fracking bans – like what Briggle and Wilson want other cities to adopt – are “big government in action.” The reason, King noted, is that such bans effectively strip Texans of their rights by “prohibiting how Texans develop their own property.”  

Most cities simply aren’t interested in banning an industry that supports two million Texas jobs and provides $15.7 billion in taxes and royalties, which fund public services all across the state. Texans are especially wary of joining a campaign run by groups with a history of leaving cities with costly legal bills, all in the name of advancing a national political agenda against fracking. Between the legal costs to defend the ban and the cost of drafting anti-drilling ordinances – which members of Frack Free Denton helped write – local taxpayers in Denton have been left on the hook for approximately $1 million, with one ordinance challenge still pending in the courts.

Frack Free Denton has been trying to sell its campaign as a defense of “local control,” but the only thing local about the anti-fracking agenda is the cost. It’s the cities, not the environmental activists, who get stuck cleaning up the mess.

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