News & Politics

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.

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 former AlterNet senior editor who has been a writer, editor and political commentator for more than three decades. He served as deputy editor of Consumer Reports for 10 years, focusing on automotive reliability, green technologies and product safety. At his former blog, Left of the Hudson and later at AlterNet, Cliff documented how communities and the environment are impacted by fracking and other extreme forms of fossil fuel extraction. Cliff was one of the first journalists to sound the alarm over the extreme dangers of shipping volatile Bakken crude oil by rail. His articles on technology, green cars, alternative energy and sustainability have appeared in several publications, including Car and Driver, Playboy, Salon and Raw Story. Cliff graduated from Oakland University, where he majored in journalism. Twitter: @cliffweathers.