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Groups Move to Intervene in Defense of Denton’s Fracking Ban

Denton Drilling Awareness Group & Earthworks act to counter lawsuits challenging local law
The Frack Free Denton booth at University of North Texas in Denton on Earth Day in 2014.

The Frack Free Denton booth at University of North Texas in Denton on Earth Day in 2014.

Photo courtesy of Cyrstal J. Hollis
December 4, 2014
Denton, TX —

The Denton Drilling Awareness Group (DAG) and Earthworks today filed intervention papers in two lawsuits seeking to overturn the Denton, Texas ban on hydraulic fracturing (fracking) that went into effect on Tuesday, December 2. DAG’s Frack Free Denton campaign, with Earthworks’ help, successfully secured passage of a ballot initiative making Denton the first Texas city to ban fracking. The groups are represented by the Texas local government law firm Brown & Hofmeister, and attorneys from national environmental organizations, Earthjustice and the Natural Resources Defense Council, are seeking court permission to participate as co-counsel.

"Denton residents, with Republican and Democratic majorities, voted overwhelmingly to ban fracking," said DAG president Cathy McMullen. "Our city has the legal power to prevent bakeries from setting up shop in residential neighborhoods. To suggest that we don’t have the legal power to similarly bar fracking, a much more dangerous process, is the height of industry arrogance."

Denton passed the fracking ban when attempts to work with the industry failed, and local and state regulators allowed new fracking operations adjacent to homes, schools, parks, and hospitals. Repeated citizen testing of fracking facilities within Denton detected carcinogens at levels exceeding state and federal exposure limits.

"The State and industry could have respected Denton communities’ health, safety, and property," said Earthworks’ energy program director, Bruce Baizel. "They chose not to. The ban is the result. Now, rather than constructively engage with the community, they simply overlook their regulatory failure and move to overturn democracy through legal action."

The groups moved to intervene in two separate lawsuits brought against the City of Denton: one by the Texas Oil and Gas Association in the Denton County District Court, and the other by the Commissioner of the General Land Office (a state agency that manages certain state-owned lands and mineral interests) in Travis County District Court. At the heart of the cases is the claim that Denton’s ordinance is overridden or "preempted" by state law. Texas has a longstanding tradition, however, of home rule authority over oil and gas development within municipal borders. Comprehensive local oil and gas ordinances are in force across the state, including in nearby Flower Mound and Dallas.

"The State of Texas has granted municipalities the right to oversee oil and gas operations. The people of Denton have exercised that right, and we intend to help preserve it," said Earthjustice Managing Attorney Deborah Goldberg, who represented the Town of Dryden, N.Y., in a landmark case, decided in June, allowing municipalities throughout New York to prohibit oil and gas development within their borders. "Communities from California to Texas to New York are fed up with the abuses of the oil and gas industry. When state and federal officials won’t stand up for the public, citizens must have the right to use local democracy to protect themselves."

"This fight cuts to the heart of our democracy, and it is far from over. The people of Denton have voted to keep fracking away from their homes and schools—they will not be bullied by powerful oil and gas companies that want to make a profit at the expense of their health," said Natural Resources Defense Council attorney Dan Raichel. "Denton is a pioneer in Texas, but it is not alone. This community joins hundreds of others around the country—and in Texas—that are demanding the right to determine what happens within their own borders."