DALLAS (CN) - Fracking opponents and an environmentalist group want to help a Texas city defend its fracking ban against a powerful state energy lobby.
The grassroots Denton Drilling Awareness Group and Earthworks filed a petition in intervention on Dec. 4 in Denton County District Court.
DAG's Frack Free Denton initiative collected the required 2,000 signatures for the ban to be placed on the Nov. 4 ballot, which passed with over 58 percent of the vote.
The Texas Oil & Gas Association, a special interest group, sued the city within hours of polls closing, claiming that state law pre-empt the city's ban, which it calls a violation of the Texas Constitution.
By TXOGA's count, only two state agencies - the Texas Railroad Commission and Texas Commission on Environmental Quality - have exclusive powers granted by the Texas Legislature to regulate the energy industry.
The Texas General Land Office - a state agency - filed a separate lawsuit the same day in Travis County Court against the ban.
DAG and Earthworks said they plan to "provide a vigorous defense of the legality and enforceability" of the ban.
They contend they would be "seriously prejudice[d]" if TXOGA prevailed, citing their "close, continuous and integral role" in the sponsorship of the ban initiative.
"Intervenors expended extensive time and resources to secure passage of the Ordinance that TXOGA now seeks to nullify," the eight-page petition stated. "Intervenors identified the need for a prohibition on hydraulic fracturing within Denton's boundaries to prevent harms to the health, environment, and property of citizens within the community; participated in the drafting of the Ordinance; educated the citizens of Denton about the need for the Ordinance; educated the citizens of Denton about the need for the ballot initiative following the City Council's refusal on July 16 to enact the Ordinance; collected signatures sufficient to get the Ordinance on the November 4, 2014, ballot; and then tirelessly advocated for its passage," the petition states.
Earthworks said the ban passed after attempts to work with the energy industry failed, and local and state regulators allowed fracking to take place near homes, schools, parks and hospitals.
Bruce Baizel, Earthworks' energy program director, said the industry and state chose not to respect Denton communities' health, safety and property.
"The ban is the result," Baizel said in a statement. "Now, rather than constructively engage with the community, they simply overlook their regulatory failure and move to overturn democracy through legal action."
Earthworks disputes TXOGA's argument of pre-emption, claiming the state has previously granted municipalities the right to oversee oil and gas operations.
"Texas has a longstanding tradition, however, of home rule authority over oil and gas development within municipal borders," Earthworks said in a statement. "Comprehensive local oil and gas ordinances are in force across the state, including in nearby Flower Mound and Dallas."
DAG president Cathy McMullen said Denton residents disputed TXOGA's claims, as well.
"Our city has the legal power to prevent bakeries from setting up shop in residential neighborhoods," McMullen said in a statement. "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."
Land Office and TXOGA officials could not be reached for comment Sunday.
DAG and Earthworks are represented by Robert Brown with Brown Hofmeister in Richardson; Deborah Goldberg with Earthjustice in New York; and Daniel Raichel with the Natural Resources Defense Council in New York.
Raichel said Thursday the dispute "cuts to the heart of our democracy."
"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," Raichel said. "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."
In the weeks before the election, watchdog ShaleTest.org released a report stating that toxic emissions were found in the air at several area playgrounds that exceeded long-term exposure limits imposed by the state.
At sites tested in Denton, Dish and Fort Worth, levels of carcinogenic benzene exceeded levels allowed by the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality, the report said.
"Although emerging science confirms that fracking-related air pollution is a health risk, there's no agreement yet on 'how close is too close'," ShaleTest director Calvin Tillman said in September. "These results suggest that sometimes 'miles away' can be too close."
Denton filed its answers to the complaints last week.