The initiative to ban fracking in Denton started out as many seemingly hopeless political campaigns often do, just a petition by angry homeowners fighting a well-funded industry that had already trampled the Denton City Council in court and follow-up negotiations.
But now that little petition has nearly 2,000 signatures, more than enough required for Denton's City Council to consider passing the ban at a meeting tonight, and that powerful industry is starting to look nervous. On Friday, the chairman of the Texas agency that oversees oil and gas used his authority to vaguely accuse Denton petitioners of working for Russia.
Barry Smitherman, Texas Railroad Commission chairman, made the accusations in an open letter addressed to the Denton mayor and City Council:
"Recently, Anders Fogh Rasmussen, the secretary general of NATO, accused Russia of secretly working with environmental groups in Europe to ban hydraulic fracturing so as to maintain Europe's current dependence upon energy imports from Moscow. It would therefore appear that not all efforts to ban hydraulic fracturing are grounded in environmental concerns. With this in mind, I trust that you all will determine whether funding and manpower behind this effort to ban hydraulic fracturing in Denton is coming out of state sources or from those who would profit from the imposition of such a ban."
He predicts that if the ban were to pass, it would also cause a de facto ban on all drilling in the city, a claim that activists behind the petition deny. Nonetheless, Smitherman goes on to say that eventually all cities in Texas may ban drilling because of Denton, and if that were to happen, "then I believe our country, our state, its citizens and school children would be severely harmed." He does not elaborate on what kind of severe harm would be inflicted on the school children specifically.
The American Petroleum Institute also seems irritated by little old Denton. API Vice President Louis Finkel told The Hill on Fridaythat Americans should never be allowed to vote on fracking because the public can't understand it:
"Public education on some of these issues is difficult because names sound scary and technology is complicated," Finkel admitted during a small briefing with reporters.
Locally, the Texas Royalty Council recently sent out letters to Denton homeowners who own mineral rights, claiming that a ban would put their property rights in jeopardy and urging them to come to the meeting tonight. And yesterday the Fort Worth Chamber of Commerce released a study all about Denton, claiming that a Denton fracking ban could cost the city $251.4 million in lost economic activity and 2,000 jobs.
Then there was that mysterious pro-fracking petition going around at the start of July, which made news after a resident told the Denton Record-Chronicle that she'd been stopped by a woman asking her to sign a petition "about fracking" because the petition-bearer was getting $2 for every signature.
All activists in Denton who want their petitions to mean anything must get about 600 signatures, or 25 percent of votes cast in the last city election. Denton Drilling Advisory Group, the activists behind the ban, collected more than enough by the May deadline, and that's what brings us to the council meeting tonight.
As the next step in the city's petition process, the Denton City Council can either vote to make the ban become law or turn the proposal over to the ballot for voters to fight over for the next election.
The city council and local industry groups have previously claimed that the city is legally powerless to ban fracking because of pro-business state laws and judges. Ed Ireland, director of the Barnett Education Council, has claimed that Denton is on the hook to grant drilling permits "in perpetuity" thanks to an old city ordinance from 2000. If the Denton City Council ignores those legal threats and passes the ban anyway, we can only imagine what kind of badass notoriety our local college town will have among Big Oil.