On the last day of early voting in Denton, the Denton Civic Center parking lot was abuzz with one of the most controversial, high-cost issues in Denton history: The fracking ban. The city is considering what would be the state's first citywide ban on fracking. In a state that has eagerly embraced heightened oil and gas drilling in recent years, the passage of the ban would send a powerful message of local environmental concerns to drilling companies across the country.
Outside the Denton Civic Center, one of three early-voting locations within the city, both Frack Free Denton and Responsible Drilling representatives raced each other to every car that pulled into the lot. Both had quick speeches and cards prepared to hand out to voters.
Ed Soph, one of the leaders of Frack Free Denton, says the constant, aggressive electioneering has paid off. Soph says he, and fellow Frack Free Dentonites, have won many last-minute votes.
"There's some people who simply are confused by the tactics of the opposition, thinking that it is a drilling ban when in reality it's a fracking ban. They've got that all wrong. There's been a great deal of misrepresentation. We framed our argument early around health, safety, environmental quality of Denton and economic robustness," he says. "They [drilling advocates] could not frame an argument about fracking because we did. And consequently you see 'Support Responsible Drilling' instead of 'Support Responsible Fracking.'"
One man, wearing a "Support Responsible Drilling" T-shirt, was employed by anti-ban advocates and had been standing outside the Denton Civic Center for seven hours by the time we spoke to him. He would only identify himself as "Larry," and while he stressed that he has "several friends" living in Denton, he lives in Oklahoma.
"Today's the last day of early voting, so we're doing what we can. A big part of our job is just to explain to people what this is about," said Larry. He demurred any requests for further comment, deflecting instead to his higher-ups.
But it's clear that the electioneering continues to have an influence up to the last minute with voters. Jeanette and Fred Cruce, leaving the center after casting their ballots, said the Frack Free Denton representatives had significantly affected their vote. Fred said he had been torn on whether or not to vote for the ban, until speaking with anti-fracking advocates outside the polls.
"They really did change my mind, because I didn't know if I was for it or against it until they showed me this picture of a well being drilled right beside this North Texas stadium. I mean, do these companies really need to drill that close to places of business or residences?" Fred Cruce said. "My opinion is they shouldn't frack inside the city limits. They've got plenty of space outside the city."
He says he usually votes Republican, while Jeanette says she often votes Democrat. Still, the two are in agreement about this issue. "They prohibit a lot of other things, but this is OK? There's too much wishy-washy scientific information on this," says Jeanette. "I've lived in this area, in North Texas, my whole life, and there have never been earthquakes in Texas until the last 10 years or so when this started. They've been minor, but you know I just don't think they have enough knowledge about the different plates under the earth, and where they're going to hit some spot with water in it, and all this kind of stuff. It's just too invasive to me."
Bobby and Rhonda Turney usually vote Republican as well, but they say neither the pro-fracking nor pro-ban lobbyists outside the cvic center had any sway on their votes. Both were firmly in favor of the ban by the time they arrived to cast their ballots.
"Why do they need to frack under the city of Denton? Other than the city of Denton trying to get something out of it. That would be my guess," Bobby Turney says. "There's enough open country out there. Them trying to get stuff out of the city, that's next to nothing. There's plenty of spots outside the city they can go."
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