Denton on Tuesday was poised to become the first city in Texas to ban hydraulic fracturing with voters approving a grassroots initiative against the controversial drilling method. With 37 of 39 precincts reported by late evening, about 59 percent of voters in this college town of 123,000 had cast ballots for an ordinance that will drastically restrict drillers’ attempts to tap the rich natural gas reserves within the city limits.
Calling the ordinance unconstitutional, state and industry officials have pledged to contest it in court and state lawmakers have said they may pass legislation to block it. The election garnered national attention, and the legal fight is likely to expand over a long period of time.
“The City Council is committed to defending the ordinance and will exercise the legal remedies that are available to us should the ordinance be challenged,” Mayor Chris Watts said in a written statement.
While dozens of cities in New York and elsewhere have banned fracking, Texas is oil and gas country. So Denton’s proposition over the rights of a Texas city to police what happens within its borders pushed it into the national spotlight.
The campaign was, by far, the most expensive in the city’s history, with opponents of the ban far outraising and outspending the ban’s proponents. Pass the Ban raised nearly $75,000 through Oct. 25, but that was dwarfed by the amounts raised by Denton Taxpayers. Denton Taxpayers pulled in close to $700,000 through Oct. 25, the latest campaign finance reporting date. Chevron and Occidental Petroleum kicked in $95,000 even though neither operates any gas wells in Denton. EnerVest, XTO Energy and Devon Energy all made six-figure donations that totalled more than $540,000.
Resident Cathy McMullen, who helped spearhead the drive to ban fracking, said more than 50 volunteers greeted voters at every Denton polling location Tuesday despite the cool, rainy weather.
Ed Longanecker, president of the Texas Independent Producers and Royalty Owners Association, said the outcome was unfortunate and ultimately will be decided in the courts.
“At risk are not only our constitutional rights, but also the loss of high-paying jobs, much-needed tax revenue, access to low-cost electricity and further exploitation by activist groups seeking to advance their anti-oil and gas ideology,” Longanecker said in an email. “We will just have to see how much damage is done in the interim.”