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Denton Council Washes Hands of Fracking Ban Proposal, Now Voters Will Decide in November

Texas city’s marathon public hearing reveals citizens’ outrage, exposes oil & gas industry’s bullying and fear-mongering

I spent eight hours in Denton on Tuesday night at a city council hearing to consider a ban on fracking in city limits, and during that time, I saw the oil and gas industry do what they do best. And that’s not drilling and fracking, folks. It’s bullying, lying, spreading propaganda, and fear mongering. Their behavior and dirty tricks were abysmal and fooled no one who mattered; even the council called them out on it.

a scene from the public hearing at Denton Photo by Jennifer LaneThe good news is that the people of Denton stood up and spoke for their rights to clean air,
quiet neighborhoods, and healthy kids.

The good news is that I also saw the people of Denton, nearly 100 of them, stand up and speak for their rights to clean air, quiet neighborhoods, and healthy kids. The bad news is that the city council listened instead, to the well-heeled industry suits representing oil and gas companies and mineral rights owners who profit from other people’s misery. After, a marathon eight-and-a-half hours of public testimonies, at 3 a.m. on Wednesday morning, the city council voted 5-2 against a ban, sending the question to the ballot measure in November.

Shortly after the vote, here’s what was overheard from one of the industry suits:

“Good. They are taking it to a vote. All we have to do is rent up a bunch of cheap apartments and houses and get people to register to vote using those addresses.”

In the parking lot, I told one industry representative from Austin that they were making promises like a cheating husband. His response: “You aren’t going to get your ban, little lady.”

So there you have it. Just a taste of what is coming to Denton in 2014. Millions will be spent and it will be ugly. The worst thing is that the city council admitted that there is no way the vote will be fair because citizens cannot compete with the millions industry will pump into corrupting the vote.

Some of my favorite moments and random thoughts about the meeting:

Again and again the industry promised to help find solutions to the problems they have created if only given a seat at the table. Again and again, when asked for even one solution, they had nothing, zero, no solutions to offer.

Two State Representatives testified: Craig Estes of Wichita Falls who featured in The Texas Observer’sLifestyles of the Corrupt and Elected,” and Myra Crownover of Lake Dallas, who owns a fracking company as well as mineral rights all over Texas. Both promised to help Denton find solutions. Neither had any tangible solutions to offer. Crownover warned it would take years to make any legislative changes.because the Texas legislature works very slowly (it takes time wading through and counting all the industry money pumped into campaign coffers, after all). She compared the impact of fracking to the nuisance of barking dogs.

Industry’s bullying tactics the past few weeks included circulating a bogus petition and gathering signatures by claiming that the petition was for regulating fracking in Denton. These tactics had the opposite affect on Denton; people were so mad that they responded by turning out and sounding off with some well-informed, powerful, and often highly entertaining testimony. The blank stare of council when they were presented with the bogus petition. Priceless.

Denton residents Batavia and John Russell’s brilliant reenactment of a petition circulator caught on video lying about the bogus petition had people in one overflow room roaring. Tara Linn’s testimony was terrific, especially when she told council that more people signed the petition to ban fracking than voted for any of them.

Attorney Sara Bagheri busted one of industry’s myths by explaining to the city council that a lawsuit will not cost the city a gazillion-billion dollars

A whiny industry supporter testified to say that one of the overflow rooms was full of a bunch of meanies and that it was unfair to him to have to stay there because we were laughing, clapping, and cheering for ban supporters. Um, dude, go to a different room.

The oil and gas industry, most of them carpetbaggers eager to frack Denton even though they don’t live there, came up with a whopper of a claim that Russia and East and West Coast environmentalists are behind the Denton ban effort. They repeated this insulting claim over and over and over again, and council, thankfully, made them look like fools for it over and over and over again.

How You Can Help

Denton has a lot of guts and a lot of smarts so we don’t need a lot of money to fight the millions industry will pour into efforts to defeat the ballot measure. But we do need some money. So please, give whatever you can. Earthworks has a page set up for Denton where you can give a tax-deductible donation. Or you can give a gift at Frack Free Denton. You could also buy one of our very cool t-shirts. Wear the t-shirt. Talk to people. Sign up for the mailing list, and if you are a Denton resident, most important, VOTE!

Sharon Wilson
Sharon Wilson is the Gulf Regional Organizer of the watchdog group Earthworks. Most people know her as TXsharon, author of the blog, Bluedaze: DRILLING REFORM FOR TEXAS that focuses on local and global drilling issues.

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