Denton fracking ban quickly draws two lawsuits after passing

Jim Tuttle/Staff Photographer

Jim Tuttle/Staff Photographer

A day after voters decided to make Denton the first city in Texas to ban hydraulic fracturing, the reaction by the energy industry and government was swift.

By 9:09 a.m. Wednesday, both the Texas Oil and Gas Association and the Texas General Land Office had filed lawsuits to prevent the city from enacting the ordinance in 30 days. And politicians in Austin are already drawing up legislation to make such bans illegal.

Denton has now joined the ranks of towns like Longmont, Colo., and Dryden, N.Y., which have fought to stop the decadelong U.S. shale drilling boom from entering their communities.

In just five years, U.S. oil production has increased 40 percent to 7.5 million barrels a day and created a huge economic boom across regions of Texas, North Dakota and Pennsylvania. But for residents living in and around the fields, it has also meant enduring heavy truck traffic and the steady hum of drilling rigs.

“Some sets of residents are going to prefer [fracking] doesn’t happen in their backyard. That’s not an uncommon perspective. But it is unusual it happened in Texas,” Aubrey McClendon, the former CEO of Chesapeake Energy who helped usher in the shale drilling boom, said in a speech Wednesday.

The question now is whether Texas, the unofficial home of the U.S. energy industry, will allow a town in one of its richest natural gas fields, the Barnett Shale, to buck the industry.

Both lawsuits filed Wednesday argued that the ban was illegal under Texas law, which gives authority to the state not only to regulate the oil and gas industry but also to ensure resources are fully exploited.

“No locality has the power to say this activity is not going to take place within our limits,” said Tom Phillips, an attorney representing the oil and gas association and a former chief justice of the Supreme Court of Texas.

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