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Texas City Could Become First In the State to Prohibit Fracking

Residents of Denton will decide if they want to ban drilling operations within their town's boundaries.
 
 
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Photo Credit: Calin Tatu

 
 
 
 

A Texas city could become the first in the Lone Star State to prohibit fracking if voters can override a town council decision not to impose a partial ban.

After listening to more than eight hours of public testimony on Tuesday, Denton’s City Council rejected a bid that would ban further permits for hydraulic fracturing in the community. It was voted down, 5-2, which sends the proposal to a public ballot in November.

A grassroots residents organization had circulated a petition to have the matter heard by the council. They delivered the signatures of nearly 2,000 registered voters supporting the ban. Under Denton’s charter, its council must either accept the proposed ordinance or put the matter before the voters. If voters pass the ban, Denton would be the first city in Texas to ban fracking inside its city limits and the first one in the nation to do so after having issued permits to drill.

Dallas, 40 miles south of Denton, does not explicitly ban fracking. However, it has been successful in keeping hydrofracking outside the city limits by requiring a 1,500-foot setback between wells and homes, virtually eliminating the possibility of any fracking operations in the city.

Earlier this month, two towns in New York successfully banned fracking after the state’s highest court sided with their right to regulate land use within their boundaries. While the ruling has no legal precedent outside New York, it's not uncommon for regional and state courts to reference legal proceedings in other states when handing down decisions.​ Fracking activists also say the decision can inspire other towns to pass similar laws in other states.

Experts say that fracking bans have to be carefully drawn up by towns. Deborah Goldberg, the attorney who successfully argued for municipal bans before New York’s Court of Appeals, says that municipalities shouldn’t write laws that are unreasonable, arbitrary or capricious.​

“The distinction is between regulating land use and regulating industry,” she says. “States clearly have the power under state laws to regulate the industry, but it's an entirely different subject matter in policies and purposes than regulating land use.”

Cliff Weathers is a senior editor at AlterNet, covering environmental and consumer issues. He is a former deputy editor at Consumer Reports. His work has also appeared in Salon, Car and Driver, Playboy, Raw Story and Detroit Monthly among other publications. Follow him on Twitter @cliffweathers and on Facebook.

 
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