Believing that she could no longer endure around-the-clock noise, dust and truck traffic in her residential Denton neighborhood, Lisa Frick and friends collected signatures to put a proposed ordinance on today’s ballot Generally Providing That Hydraulic Fracturing Operations are Prohibited in the City of Denton. Frac Petroleum Company, among others, argues that the City of Denton cannot unilaterally prohibit fracing operations anywhere because state rules outweigh local laws and because landowners have a right to the value of their land (and minerals) which cannot be taken without compensation. Who’s right?
Hydraulic fracturing, or “fracing,” is a well-stimulation process used to maximize the extraction of underground resources including oil, natural gas, and geothermal energy that injects water, sand and chemicals under high pressure into a well, cracking the rock shale.
The Facts as reported by both sides of the vote – Vote For the Ban and Denton Taxpayers for a Strong Economy (you might be able to guess who emphasized what).
- There are over 281 active gas wells permitted within the Denton City Limits
- In 2013 Denton established a 1,200-foot setback from homes for new wells
- Existing Denton drilling permits are vested under an ordinance with a much closer setback – some 200 feet from homes and parks
- New rule is inapplicable to wells with existing permits, subject to fracing at any time
- Drilling protects local economy, jobs, revenue to schools / colleges and local government
The Issues – “Come and Take It” – Who wins when
Denton and Individual Surface Owners challenge Texas, Drillers and Property Owners
Individuals argue that Fracing –
- Contaminates the water supply
- Depletes water supplies
- Harms air quality
- Causes earthquakes*
State and Mineral Owners, predictably, deny these claims and argue that –
- State agencies have strong track record of monitoring and regularly modernize
- Only Texas Railroad Commission and, in some instances the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality have authority to adopt oil and gas drilling rules
- If passed, the Denton Ordinance would be an “unconstitutional taking” of the mineral owners’ valuable property rights
- Contaminated water is not caused by the fracing process, but something else
Denton Mayor Chris Watts says, if his city adopts a fracing ban today, “It may be just the beginning for us,” said Watts, an attorney. “The vote is not the end of the story. It may just be the beginning. It may be decided at the courthouse or at the statehouse.”
My insightful Gray Reed partner Charlie Sartain and expert Oil and Gas attorney regularly blogs about Energy and The Law and has several compelling and humorous entries worth your read:
What’s Going On in Denton, Texas?
Truth and Illusion in the Fracing Debate
Frac(k)ing, Parr v. Aruba, and Minority Oppression
In Wyoming, a Higher Burden for Chemical Disclosure Exemption?
Barnett Shale Drilling Increased North Texas Ozone – Fact or Fiction?
Hydrocarbon Exposure Reconsidered
Also, check out this Tilting the Scales article.
* Earthquakes and other claimed fracing risks will be addressed in greater detail, especially if Denton votes to ban fracing tonight.