North Texas Daily

City sends fracking ban to November ballot

City sends fracking ban to November ballot

City sends fracking ban to November ballot
July 16
10:22 2014

Joshua Knopp / Senior Staff Writer

After eight hours of hearings and deliberation, the Denton City Council denied the grass roots ban on hydraulic fracking at 3 a.m with a vote of 5-2 Wednesday morning. The ban will go to a public vote on the November ballot.

The petition was started by UNT philosophy professor Adam Briggle and submitted in May. The petition carries about 2,000 signatures, more than three times the amount required to appear at a city council hearing. The ban would have made Denton the first city in Texas to ban fracking.

The council chamber was filled to the brim, and city administrators were forced to not only open the nearby convention center, but also to shuffle speakers between the two buildings.

A total of 110 speakers signed in. The majority of the speakers were against the ban, and a number of them came from out of town. This included senators Craig Estes, Myra Crownover and John Tintera, former executive director of the Texas Railroad Commission, which regulates fracking, in addition to a handful of local energy company CEOs. There were also many residents who spoke against the ban, saying the city should work harder to regulate the industry without an outright ban.

However, a majority of observers were in favor of the ban. In the convention center, several rounds of applause broke out when residents spoke in favor of the ban, and council members questioned some speakers who were against the ban intensely. Council member Jim Engelbrecht asked many speakers if they would allow a diesel engine to run behind their homes 24 hours a day. Speakers included some of the petition’s organizers, such as UNT professor Adam Briggle.

Speakers against the ban brought up a wide variety of points. Some legal professionals warned the council of legal repercussions, saying that the law would fly in the face of Texas’ and the Texas Railroad Commission’s authority. Some residents said there is no reason to ban fracking because it is well-regulated. Executives argued that a ban on fracking in Denton would have international repercussions and contribute to the shrinking of the fossil fuels supply.

Chris Faulkner, CEO of Dallas-based Breitling Energy, was one executive who made such an argument, saying Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and the U.K. all look to Texas’ energy regulations as an example.

“This message is not about Denton,” he said. “It’s about the world.”

U.K. newspaper “The Guardian,” published an article last December calling North Texas “Fracking Hell.”

Senator Estes said there have been zero confirmed cases of groundwater contamination due to fracking, a factoid that was echoed by many speakers against the ban, although a 2011 EPA report refutes that point. Estes said there was too much uncertainty to pass an outright ban.

“When in doubt, just vote no,” he said.

Crownover said that fracking was “inconvenient,” but the entire Texas economy is based on mineral property rights trumping surface property rights and Denton residents need to deal with it.

The group Denton Taxpayers for a Strong Economy presented a packet of 8,000 signatures they collected against the ban, though several residents against the ban said those signatures were gathered deceptively.

Many residents told personal stories of how a reduction in air quality due to fracking was aversely affecting their lives. Of them, some lived in the Hickory Creek neighborhood, which is sandwiched between two wells that were re-drilled last year, causing a bevy of complaints about noise and light pollution at all hours in addition to air quality concerns.

Briggle re-iterated the points of the petition, saying that fracking does not help the Denton economy and that most of the mineral rights are owned out of state by descendents of original residents who sold the surface rights, but retained their mineral rights. Briggle said fracking was an all-cost, no-benefit exercise in Denton and pollution from it will scare off future residents.

“The skilled work force we’re looking for are looking for a high quality of life,” Briggle said. “Poisonous fumes from nearby fracking rigs don’t really fit that bill. They’ll find work elsewhere.”

Featured Image: The view of a natural gas well, that extends underneath UNT, across from Apogee Stadium’s front entrance. Photo by Joshua Knopp, senior staff writer. 

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