As most eyes focused on statewide races Tuesday night, fracking’s birthplace banned fracking. While corresponding bans failed in two California and Ohio cities, Denton led the way and paved an important new landscape.
Astoundingly, the ban’s campaign Frack Free Denton raised $75,000 since July while the oil companies opposing the ban poured in $700,000 – nearly $6 for every Denton resident. Voters saw through the money and made an important, clear-eyed decision.
There are three significant impacts. The first: attention-profligating symbolism. Denton is the origin of the fracking boom and considered the most-fracked city in the United States. Nearly a third of the entire city is permitted for fracking. The sharp rebuke here is already evident in the ban’s coverage around the world. The second impact: Denton residents no longer have to worry about reckless fracking destabilizing their property, polluting their water, and even killing their pets and livestock. That’s 123,000 Texans who can breathe a sigh of relief.
The third is a bit more complex and very important. Fracking’s profitability requires that oil prices remain above a certain level, given the process’s high expense. The recent nationwide drop in those prices has already begun impacting the fracking industry. As a result, the United States’ new status as the world’s largest oil producer may be in jeopardy, which is on the whole great for Americans, even the oil executives who have forgotten that they live on the same planet as everyone else. Admittedly, it would be more than nice if Washington would invest further in green energy jobs to replace the ones lost.
Calling the ban “arbitrary, capricious and unreasonable,” Jerry Patterson’s Texas General Land Office and the Texas Oil and Gas Association (shocking pair) already filed a lawsuit against the Denton ban. The legal merits for a judicial overturn seem strange; yes, this can hurt Big Oil’s profit margins, but why exactly is that relevant to this law’s legality? Simply because of the vague threat that they won’t want to drill in Denton anymore? And even if the plaintiffs provide some trumped-up studies supporting their view, why don’t Denton voters have a right to assess fracking differently (accurately)? And what exactly about the “arbitrary, capricious and unreasonable” point of view have to do with Denton voters’ right to determine their city’s energy policy? Hopefully the courts see not much ‘there’ there.
Denton’s ban is very good news in the ears of people who know that, like offshore drilling, fracking is nothing but a distraction from a healthy energy future. Especially if other cities get inspired and follow suit. On a difficult Election night, Denton may have started pushing the country forward in a big way.