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Home of First Fracking Ban Fires Back at TX Lawmakers

DALLAS (CN) - As a first-in-state fracking ban takes effect in Denton, Texas, today, the city has fired back at opponents in the oil-and-gas lobby and state Legislature.

Over 58 percent of Denton voters approved the grassroots measure on Nov. 4. Within hours, the Texas Oil & Gas Association sued the city in Denton County Court, and the Texas General Land Office sued in Travis County Court.

Fracking, also known as hydraulic fracturing, is the practice of drilling and injecting highly pressurized fluid to break shale rocks to release natural gas. The practice has been popular in the vast Barnett Shale in North Texas, as rising energy prices have made the expensive process more profitable. Other cities in the region have tried tighter regulations on fracking in the face of environmental concerns by citizens. Denton is the first city to ban it outright.

Representing more than 5,000 members in the state's oil-and-gas industry, TXOGA says that the ban confuses and "undermines" the state's already "comprehensive" regulation of oil and gas development. It argues that the Texas Railroad Commission and Texas Commission on Environmental Quality have "exclusive" authority under the Texas Legislature to regulate the industry.

In an original answer filed Monday, Denton denied all of TXOGA's allegations. It says that nowhere in the lawsuit does the group identify what state regulations "allegedly occupy the 'entire field' rendering the initiative ordinance preempted and unconstitutional."

Denton blames fracking activities for conditions "subversive of public order," calling the practice an "obstruction of public rights of the community as a whole."

"Such conditions include, but are not limited to, noise, increased heavy truck traffic, liquid spills, vibrations and other offensive results of the hydraulic fracturing process that have affected the entire Denton community," the answer states. "Those conditions, all of which are generated by hydraulic fracturing, constitute a public nuisance which may be abated and future occurrences prevented by the city under its regulatory powers and are not subject to preemption as alleged by plaintiff."

Denton answered the Land Office's lawsuit separately, saying those proceedings should be moved to Denton County. It argues the lands subject to the suit are located in Denton County, making it the mandatory venue.

TXOGA says the ban "directly conflicts" with Railroad Commission and TCEQ regulations.

"The Railroad Commission has granted permits to TXOGA's members to drill horizontal wells within the Denton city limits," its complaint says. "The Railroad Commission and the TCEQ have broad authority to regulate each of the 'impacts' and 'dangers' listed in the ordinance - and have done so with unmistakable clarity ... the Hydraulic Frac Ban, under the guise of regulating these various alleged 'impacts' and 'dangers,' is nothing more than a complete ban of hydraulic fracturing, an act that is in direct conflict with existing state regulation."

Land Office and TXOGA officials could not be reached for comment late Monday.

After the ban passed, TXOGA officials expressed disappointment with the vote.

"Many of the wells in Denton cannot be produced without hydraulic fracturing, so a ban denies many mineral interest owners the right to gain value from their property, despite the state's public policy in favor of developing natural resources," it said in a statement at the time. "TXOGA respectfully acknowledges differing opinions among local officials, residents, community groups, and companies on the legality as well as the efficacy of this type of ordinance."

Texas Railroad Commissioner David Porter predicted that the ban will be overturned, calling it unfortunate that voters fell for "scare tactics and mischaracterizations of the truth."

The three-member Railroad Commission regulates the oil and gas industry in Texas. TXGOA claimed it has "sole responsibility" to regulate ground and surface water contamination.

"Texas is a global energy leader and has the best job climate in the country because of our fair, even-handed regulatory environment," Porter said in a statement at the time. "Bans based on misinformation - instead of science and fact - potentially threaten this energy renaissance and as a result, the well-being of all Texans."

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