Energy industry, Texas sue Denton over fracking ban



by Max B. Baker

Less than 24 hours after Denton voters approved a ban on hydraulic fracturing, the Texas Oil and Gas Association and the state’s General Land Office filed lawsuits to stop the city’s effort to prohibit the controversial drilling method.
Both the association and the land office acted shortly after the courthouse doors opened in Denton and Austin, seeking to block implementation of an ordinance approved 59 percent to 41 percent Tuesday. The ban is set to take effect Dec. 2.

The industry association filed its lawsuit in Denton County, saying the ordinance exceeds the limited power of home-rule cities and intrudes on the authority of several state agencies, particularly the Texas Railroad Commission, which regulates the oil and gas industry.

“By imposing a complete ban on hydraulic fracturing on oil and gas leases within its city limits, the city of Denton undermines this comprehensive state system of regulating oil and gas development,” says the lawsuit, prepared by former Texas Supreme Court Chief Justice Tom Phillips. “The ordinance’s complete ban second-guesses and impedes this state regulatory framework.”

The lawsuit asks the Denton judge for an expedited hearing and seeks declaratory and injunctive relief from the ban on fracking, a technique that pumps water, sand and chemicals underground to shake gas loose from the shale.

Texas Land Commissioner Jerry Patterson, who had pledged that his agency would beat a path to the courthouse door if the ban was approved, filed suit in in Travis County, seeking to protect money flowing into the Permanent School Fund.

The land office said that it owns land and mineral rights in Denton County and that the ban would deprive it of any money it could make from those interests. Like the Texas Oil and Gas Association, the land office argues that the ban is unconstitutional. The agency is seeking a permanent injunction.

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