SocraticGadfly: Could Denton ban fracking?

May 08, 2014

Could Denton ban fracking?

Citizens of the North Texas city, frustrated that the city council won't do more than pass a temporary moratorium on oil and gas fracking, with lots of residential growth, both for people with local jobs and commuters to Dallas, Fort Worth, and Plano/Frisco, have submitted a fracking ban proposal.

Here's part of official Denton's concern:
The Mayor of Denton, Mark Burroughs, has said he thinks the fracking ban being proposed is illegal.

“If it does pass, the city has to follow it,” Burroughs told StateImpact Texas in April. “We could be bound to enforce an illegal act, which throws into a whole panoply of open issues…. We as a city would be bound to defend it, whether we believed it was illegal or not. So it’s a real open, difficult series of issues.”
I would like to see tighter fracking regulations myself. That includes better knowledge of what happens with injection fluids, safe disposal of waste fluids, improved wellhead casing seals and other measures (both for safety and, with natural gas, for greenhouse gas reasons), and drilling setbacks from schools, houses, etc.

However, off the top of my head, I doubt that an absolute ban would fly. And, thus, to be on the safe side, I don't know why Denton Drilling Awareness Group, to avoid the potential litigation issue, doesn't do what I asked why the city of Denton hasn't done, and propose the Dallas ordinance, rather than an outright ban.

And yes, both Big Oil/Gas and absentee mineral rights owners would sue.

Also, the fact that they are absentee owners doesn't matter legally, anti-fracking Dentonites. It may be a "heartstrings" issue, but it's not a legal one. And, it could be misguided. Falls County, Texas, all of 17,000 people and change, has absentee mineral rights in Wise and Archer counties.

At the same time, I do get the feeling that Burroughs' support for a temporary moratorium is little more than an exercise in trying to run out the clock on fracking opponents. After all, while not a full ban, earlier this year, Dallas passed one of the tightest control ordinances in the country. It would be a simple matter for Denton to do a copy-and-paste vote on accepting Dallas' ordinance, perhaps with a minor tweak or two. People on all sides of the issue agree that, without technically and legally "banning" fracking from Dallas, it effectively did so.

The moratorium, and a desire for something more than it, have been going on for two years. Part of Burroughs' problem may be fear of drilling companies — drilling companies that call anti-frackers terrorists. And, per the story, how would EagleRidge know if anti-frackers are on any Homeland Security watch list?

Were I in Denton, I'd support a total ban just to tell EagleRidge a good "eff you." And, if activists ARE on any watch list, it would be a good "eff you" to Team Obama and Dear Leader. But, I would prefer something more ironclad, if given my druthers.

Because,  yes, a total ban will have legal ramifications. There will be suits.

But, whose fault is that? Given the "two years" I mentioned above, Mayor Burroughs would seem to be the one to blame for that, along with EagleRidge, of course. At the same time, bring on the lawsuit. Again per the "two years" mentioned above, EagleRidge has yet to sue over the moratorium. So, Your Honor? Even if you don't want a total, permanent ban, why don't you extend that moratorium until September 2016, and not this September, as kind of a test of EagleRidge.

And, if Burroughs is running out the clock, and residents pass the ban in November, it will have political ramifications for him in May 2015, if that's when his mayoral seat is up for re-election.

At the same time, Denton anti-frackers? Don't paint the issue of mineral rights and royalties in Texas as being entirely about greedy out-of-staters, as "absentee rights holders" might imply. A small, aging, declining county or two, either directly, or indirectly on behalf of school districts from before the modern ISD issue, can use that money.

As for better regulations? To riff on an old NRA claim, it would be nice to have Texas better enforce the ones it has as a starting point, which it doesn't. That's why former NYC mayor Michael Bloomberg is either clueless or obfuscating when touting Texas as a regulatory model.

On the non-enforcement issue, how many of you Denton anti-frackers pulled the "R" lever in 2012, also? Beyond the local level, if you want real change, it has to start with you. The county as a whole, of which Denton is one-sixth, voted 2-1 for Romney in 2012. In this year's primary, 38,000 voted for one or another of the GOP gubernatorial candidates; 7,000 for one or another of the Democrats. All four individual commissioners as well as all countywide offices are held by Republicans.

I don't buy, at least not without caveats, the idea that all politics is local. I certainly don't believe all politics on issues like this should remain local.

So, Dentonites? Stop pulling the R lever so much. Certainly stop doing it on Railroad Commission races.

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