Texas Legislature Votes to Squash Communities' Right to Say "No" to Fracking


Photo by Daniel Mayer

The Texas State Senate passed a bill today--HB 40, passed by the state House of Representatives just a few weeks prior--designed to eviscerate the rights of Texas communities to keep fracking out of their own borders. The move comes in response to a local ballot measure passed by popular vote last November that banned the risky industrial practice in the City of Denton--the first city in the oil-friendly state to do so. The bill now heads to Governor Abbott's desk, where it is expected to be signed.

The vote sadly comes as no surprise in a state where small cities and towns are increasingly under assault by an industry seemingly not concerned about a wide-range of health risks associated with fracking-related pollution or the longstanding rights of landowners to quietly enjoy their own property.

Denton is a great example. The City is a rapidly growing urban area of over 120,000 people that now has close to three hundred wells--many of them within just a few hundred feet of homes, schools, hospitals, and public parks. After years of active fracking in their community and failed attempts to stop the worst industry abuses, residents of Denton were just plain sick of it: sick of the 24-hour-a-day noise and light; sick of the heavy trucks damaging local roads; and sick of the noxious chemical smell from frack wells and waste pits.

So they took the democratic approach and did what any good group of Americans would do: they voted--passing a local ban on fracking by a wide margin. (And note here that this was just a ban on fracking only, not "conventional" oil and gas drilling). As I wrote before, the very next day, the City was sued . . . twice. (NRDC attorneys and Earthjustice have been representing the Denton Drilling Awareness Group and Earthworks that intervened in the cases to help defend Denton's ban.)

But because local laws like the one in Denton are supported by a long tradition of local home rule authority in Texas, perhaps industry decided that their money would go further in Austin than it would in the Denton courts. And so, it appears, it has.

In the few short months since November, no fewer than eight bills were proposed in the Texas Legislature in response to the Denton ban. Some were so blindly impulsive that they would have gutted the fabric of Texas local democracy altogether, but in the end it looks like the settled "winner" is a bill limited just to the field of oil and gas.

Put simply: The people of Denton exercised their democratic right to keep a nasty industrial process out of their community--and now big oil and their friends in high places are poised to steamroll them, along with everyone else in Texas.

And that's just not right. The interests of a powerful industry should never take priority over the health and safety of American families. Texans should be able to keep dangerous activities and chemicals away from their homes, schools and hospitals--just as hundreds of other communities across the country have already done. That's why NRDC's Community Fracking Defense Project, regardless of what happens with this legislation, will keep working to defend the rights of cities, towns, and counties in Texas and across the country.