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Why We Are Pushing for a Fracking Ban In the City of Denton

The Texas government and regulatory agencies aren't looking out for regular folks like us

As a life long Texan, I grew up with oil and gas drilling. As kids, pumpjacks reminded us of Texas-sized grasshoppers. And we greeted each new well with anticipation because it might mean big money for family or friends. But that was before the pairing of horizontal drilling with high-pressure, slick-water fracking morphed oil and gas development into a different animal entirely.

Fracking rig near homes in Denton, TexasPhoto courtesy of Gena Felker and Britt Utsler/Frack Free DentonHomes less than 250 feet from a fracking rig in Denton, TX.

Today, oil and gas wells bring fear to neighborhoods.

That’s because, thanks to fracking, today’s wells don’t mean gain for the neighborhood hosting it. Instead, fracking means loss: Loss of control over your family’s health, loss of your home as a safe haven, and loss of wealth from your home’s decreasing resale value. Cities lose too, through the destruction of roads and infrastructure, as well as the constant threat of expensive industry lawsuits if their activities are restricted. (Today, there are 212 active wells in the 89.16 square mile city, and 273 active wells within Denton’s corporate city limits.)

This is not the oil and gas industry I grew up with.

Still, when I tell people I’m the president of Denton Drilling Awareness Group — the citizens group behind the Frack Free Denton ballot initiative to ban fracking within Denton city limits —people ask (sometimes not too nicely), “Are you crazy? Why are you pushing for a fracking ban?”

The answers is simple. Because we’ve trying everything else and it hasn’t worked.

I know because as a former member of the city’s Drilling Advisory Group, I worked directly with members of the Denton City Council to improve city oversight of fracking-enabled oil and gas development.

We asked for vapor recovery units so we’d have cleaner air. We asked for lined frack pits to protect our groundwater. We asked for decibel limits at certain times of day so the noise of drilling and fracking wouldn’t chase us out of our homes. And we asked for setbacks so that we wouldn’t have fracking in our backyards and adjacent to our schools.

For the most part, we were denied. We were told stronger ordinances would bring an avalanche of lawsuits from the fracking industry. We were warned our property taxes would increase as city services declined. But we know this isn’t true. Other Texas cities have passed similar and stronger ordinances that withstood legal challenges without onerous consequences.

Unfortunately, even the changes that Denton did enact are practically meaningless. Because the City Council allowed new construction of homes within 250 feet of existing wells. Practically speaking, all existing wells are grandfathered under permits that industry says allows an unlimited number of wells in perpetuity.

Even the City Council's explicit promises have proven empty, like its 2012 pledge to monitor the air at fracking sites so we'd know if our health was at risk. Even thought it wouldn't require any change in industry practice, it's two years later and we still have no monitoring.

And it’s important to remember that fracking hasn’t been proven safe.  In fact a new scientific study published just last week by the National Institutes of Health indicates quite the contrary.

Unfortunately, we can’t rely on Texas state government or the US Environmental Protection Agency to pick up the slack. Communities across the country, and particularly in Texas, have discovered that regulators are more interested in providing political cover for the oil and gas industry than in protecting the public from damages caused by the industry.

As with the Denton City Council, our knowledge of Texas’ and EPA’s oversight failings are grounded in hard-won experience. The Texas Council on Environmental Quality’s own records reveal cases where inspectors have responded to community complaints, confirmed the pollution at concentrations so high that the inspectors evacuated the area for fear of their own safety, yet neither notified the community of their findings nor penalized the company responsible.

And EPA’s own Inspector General found that EPA intervention was warranted to protect Parker County landowners’ drinking water, but the agency later backtracked on this conclusion under political pressure from the state, the company, and lobbyists.

Faced with a similar situation, other communities across the country — even those with generations of experience with the oil and gas industry like Colorado and New Mexico — are banning fracking. Statewide bans are becoming politically viable in other oil and gas states even in the face of government opposition. Statewide bans are becoming politically viable in other oil and gas states even in the face of government opposition.

Our backs are against the wall now. We have no other alternative. We've tried everything that we can think of. A ban is the last option we have for some control over our lives and the safe haven of our homes.

Cathy McMullen
Cathy McMullen is president of Denton Drilling Awareness Group.

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I always read comments and one of my favorites comment to post for others to read and have hope is this….“the will of the people WILL win…. just like abolishing slavery was inevitable, so too can we replace fossil fuels may cost us just like when they compensated the slave owners. Yeah the wind and the sun is “suppose” to be free energy inputs, but face it… the oil, coal, & gas mafia isn’t going to go away nicely…we have to pay them off, otherwise we are being held hostage in an ever increasing hostile biosphere…we may have to guarantee that they make the same insane profits while they change their business model from fossil fuels to renewables….too bad they just don’t go out of business…we know and they know we need them because of our lifestyles…but they have to change and we have to pay them to or become extinct.”

By Kim Feil on Fri, May 02, 2014 at 10:26 pm

One of the things that has been truly frustrating for me (and, undoubtedly, countless others) is that when McMullen states “We’ve tried everything else”, is that WE shouldn’t have to be the ones trying anything. That’s why we have elected officials, and not one, but two state regulatory agencies that are supposed to be the police of Industry. We’ve been working and living our lives under the premise that these people-our mayors, city/town council members, Governors, State and Federal Representatives/Senators and all other government officials AND the two regulatory agencies -are doing the necessary work to protect us and be our voice-and hammer when need be so that we don’t have to.

But they are not. A very small handful of elected officials, really only two I can think of-former Mayor Calvin Tillman and State Rep Lon Burnam have been the only two actually working and taking necessary actions on our behalf. All of the others, including gubernatorial candidate Wendy Davis, have always had to check which way the political wind is blowing first, only to decide to do nothing.

The men and women of the state regulatory agencies, mostly appointed by the oil soaked governor or elected through oil company campaign funding work only to delay any action to appease their masters, Big Oil. Big Oil, in turn, returns the favor by either employing them with lucrative incomes upon failing an election or getting them re-elected.

Seems like it takes awhile for this to sink in with people. So that’s why we need to keep fighting, sticking together and supporting one another. The simple fact of the matter is, no one else is going to do it and it needs to be done. For not ourselves, but for our children and their future.

By Tim Ruggiero on Fri, May 02, 2014 at 11:28 am

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