This week, Texas governor Greg Abbott signed a bill prohibiting cities from banning hydraulic fracturing, despite the fact that voters in Denton, Texas approved a local ordinance banning fracking in their community last November.
In a statement, Abbott said that the law “ensures that Texas avoids a patchwork quilt of regulations that differ from region to region, differ from county to county or city to city.”
Fracking is a process of extracting natural gas from shale rock thousand of feet below the Earth’s surface by drilling a hole and then shooting a high-pressure water, chemical and sand mixture into it to release the gas.
Opponents to the practice say it can contaminate groundwater and researchers have linked fracking to earthquakes in Oklahoma, Texas, Arkansas and Kansas.
Immediately after the Denton ban was voted on in November, energy companies and the state sued. Now that lawsuit may be moot, as Denton mayor Chris Watts has said that state law makes the city’s ban unenforceable. In an op-ed for the Denton Chronicle-Record, he wrote that, the state law “goes far beyond Denton’s fracturing ban and offers no solution to the multifaceted challenges of urban drilling.”
In an article on Common Dreams, Earthjustice attorney Deborah Goldberg said that the state law was the oil and gas industry’s last resort, since its lawsuit against Denton was “flimsy.” The Texas governor and legislature have “capitulated to the greedy but powerful oil and gas industry at the expense of their own constituents’ health, well-being, and property rights,” she said.
The oil and gas industry is a large part of Texas’ economy, accounting for 14.9 percent of Texas’ state product and employing 3.1 percent of the workforce. It also leads the US in natural gas production, according to an NPR report about natural gas in Texas.
Going forward, it is unclear what the Texas’ ban will mean for cities in other states looking to stop fracking. Similar tensions between states and cities on fracking have been seen elsewhere. State legislatures in Colorado, Ohio, New Mexico and Oklahoma have passed bills limiting local governments’ ability to regulate oil and gas activities. Meanwhile, a number of cities and states have taken steps to ban or limit fracking. According to the advocacy group Food and Water Watch, over 400 US cities have attempted to ban or limit fracking so far. New York became the second state to ban fracking last December.