Fight for fracking in Denton continues in court

Fight for fracking in Denton continues in court

Fight for fracking in Denton continues in court
November 17
23:48 2014

Dalton LaFerney / Senior Staff Writer

Get ready, UNT. The battle to rid Denton of hydraulic fracturing is not over.

While the hydraulic fracturing ban goes into effect Dec. 2, both sides of the debate are gearing up for a legal dispute that has some politicians motivated to take the issue to Austin.

On the morning of Nov. 5, the day after the ban passed with a 59 percent majority, two lawsuits were filed against the City of Denton in the 53rd District Court of Travis County before most students were out of bed.

The first was from Texas Land Commissioner Jerry Patterson of the state’s General Land Office at 7:51 a.m. The other, from former Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of Texas Thomas Phillips, came at 9:08 a.m. from the Texas Oil and Gas Association.

Christi Craddick, chairwoman of the Texas Railroad Commission, wrote on Thursday, Nov. 13 in the Denton Record-Chronicle:

“The voice of the people of Denton should not be overruled. Rather, cities and state regulators should work together to fulfill their responsibilities to the people.”

Operation: Justice

A search of the Denton County Court website did not determine whether or not Denton has officially been served a court summons, and neither city nor county officials commented on the situation.

The North Texas Daily obtained copies of both the GLO and TXOGA petitions and each revealed similar complaints.

The 1876 Texas Constitution, as the GLO petition’s main premise states, allocated the available public land be designated for the Public School Fund to help pay for Texas education. The GLO is legally responsible for managing those lands.

In the lawsuit, representatives said the fracking ban diminishes the GLO from fulfilling its legal obligation.

The July 2014 Public School Fund was valued at $37.7 billion, making it the wealthiest educational fund in the country, surpassing the Harvard University fund.

“This ban on hydraulic fracturing is not constitutional, and it won’t stand,” Patterson said. “If it were allowed to be enforced, it would hurt the schoolchildren of Texas, who earn hundreds of millions of dollars a year on oil and gas production on Permanent School Fund lands.”

18_frack_web2

A closeup of the well across from Apogee. A video surfaced last year of gases leaking from this site directly across from where the Homecoming bonfire is held.

The other plans of action in the petition urge the definition of the ban be reworded, as to exclude public land owned by Texas that is within Denton city limits in the ban.

Additionally,the lawsuit declares the fracking ban prohibits the Railroad Commission’s right to manage the oil and gas industry.

Similarly, the TXOGA’s major complaint in its petition is the effect the fracking ban has on the commission’s regulatory function.

Article 16, Section 5 of the Texas Constitution allows inhabitants of cities with a population greater than 5,000 to vote on ordinances similar to the fracking ban. Furthermore, the law warns the ordinance may not bar any law established by the legislature.

In addition to the Railroad Commission, the TXOGA petition holds stake in the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality’s right to regulate air and water pollution, as granted by the Texas Constitution.

“While home-rule cities like Denton may certainly regulate some aspects of exploration and drilling, TXOGA does not believe that they may enact ordinances that outlaw conduct, like hydraulic fracturing, that has been approved and regulated by state agencies such as the Railroad Commission or TCEQ, Phillips wrote in the document.

In the injunction, the TXOGA, comprised of 5,000 members, states the ban exceeds Denton’s home-rule rights.

It goes on to examine the economic and industrial benefits associated with Barnett Shale production, and highlights that the RCC, two weeks prior to Nov. 5, adopted new rules dictating water use with fracking.

TXOGA spokeswoman Gretchen Fox said the data is based on studies by the Barnett Shale Energy Education Council and The Perryman Group, which estimate the city losing $10.7 million in taxes over the next 10 years. The study calculates the state of Texas losing $17.1 million over the same 10-year period.

Texas politics and oil

It is no secret Texas’ economy is largely dependent on the success of the oil and gas industry. The 2014 midterm election turned out to be Denton’s most expensive election; the oil business outspent grassroots anti-fracking activities, and looks to continue on the offensive.

The ban amends a Denton city ordinance dealing with licenses, permits and business regulations, by adding Article 6. This states companies are still permitted to drill within city limits, just not by means of fracking.

Fracking will result in a fine of up to $2,000 each day the method is in practice. The proposition pulled 25,473 votes, according to the Denton County elections website. The ban passed by a 17 percent margin, with 14,932 voting for, and 10,541 against.

A fracking well across from Apogee Stadium on Airport Road on Sunday afternoon.

The well across from Apogee Stadium collects natural gas from the ground. The well was fractured a year ago.

Phil King, a Republican representing Wise and Parker counties who serves on the Energy Resources and Pensions committee, said he will draft legislation against the ban in the upcoming legislative session.

If King and other politicians join the fight against the ban, Texas, known for its small government approach, will turn the tables as the big government battling a smaller municipality.

“Denton has made a decision that moves it outside legal authority,” retired political science professor John Booth said. “There is a great imbalance of power between cities and states, but there is no question Denton has regulatory power to protect the health and safety of the citizens.”

Representative Myra Crownover of District 64, who has worked closely with UNT, said Austin should not get involved with Denton’s affairs.

“I don’t think that’s the best way to solve that problem,” Crownover said, referring to new legislation. “I think it’s important to let it play out in the courts. I have worked hard to represent my community, and my community spoke on Nov. 4.”

Although the fracking prohibition was not a partisan measure on the ballot, some energy officials claim UNT’s liberal student population swayed the vote.

However, the average voting age was 52.

“What’s interesting to me, is that a third of the people who voted for the ban voted Republican,” Booth said. “So it’s not a straightforward partisan issue.”

The Denton Drilling Awareness Group, the party credited with leading the fight against fracking, is not stopping its initiatives either. President Cathy McMullen said her group has attorneys who want to help with the legal battle. The lawyers will file paperwork with Denton’s attorneys, making them interveners on the cases.

“We are weighing our options,” she said. “If the judge decides that’s okay, then our lawyers will work with the city lawyers.”

As for the front in Austin, McMullen said the group will be a part of a lobbying effort if legislation against Denton’s rights is proposed.

“I have already starting forming a coalition with groups like ours from south Texas and Austin,” she said. “We will be going as one group to Austin to lobby any bill they try to pass. We started this, so we have to stay engaged.”

Featured Image: A natural gas well maintained by Eagleridge Operating LLC. The company owns and operates several wells around the city. Photos by Devin Dakota – Staff Photographer

About Author

Dalton LaFerney

Dalton LaFerney

Dalton is the editor of the Daily.

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