To frack or not to frack? Denton to decide

Alex Mills

The good citizens of Denton will decide in the Nov. 4 election whether or not to ban hydraulic fracturing, As voters ponder the proposed ban, they can find guidance in the words of former Texas Supreme Court Chief Justice Tom Phillips.

“Under the Texas Constitution, I do not believe that a municipality may ban all oil and gas drilling within its borders,” Phillips said during a hearing held by the Denton City Council on July 15. He said the ban is incompatible with state law, and amounts to a government taking of private property, violating the rights of many mineral interest owners and operators.

Approval of the ban could lead to years of litigation, Phillips said, with the city of Denton absorbing the cost of defending an unconstitutional act and government taking of private property without just compensation.

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Already, even before the ban’s fate is determined at the polls, a lawsuit has been filed against the city. The suit, filed on behalf of Arsenal Minerals and Royalty and the Chandler Davis Trust, states that the city enacted drilling moratoriums in 2012 that have “compromised legal relationships and private contracts.”

Legal ramifications aside, there are significant reasons to vote against the ban. Let’s start with money.

Dr. Ray Perryman, founder of The Perryman Group and one of the most knowledgeable economists in Texas, took a look and found that approval of the ban “would lead to significant economic and fiscal harm for individuals, businesses, schools, local governments, and other public and private entities.”

Perryman said that the city of Denton would face a potential loss of $251.4 million and that Denton County and the state of Texas could lose an estimated $354.8 million during the next 10 years. Estimated local taxes lost would be $10.7 million over the next 10 years.

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Voters concerned about the claims by environmental groups that hydraulic fracturing is dirty and is poisoning our water might want to consider the views of six current and former regulators of the oil and gas industry under the Obama administration, all of whom believe that hydraulic fracturing is safe. Here are some of their comments:

• Gina McCarthy, current administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency, speaking to the National Journal on Nov. 6, 2013: “There’s nothing inherently dangerous in fracking that sound engineering practices can’t accomplish.”

• Lisa Jackson, the EPA administrator before McCarthy, in testimony before the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works on May 24, 2011: “I’m not aware of any proven case where the fracking process itself has affected water.”

• Ernest Moniz, current secretary of the Department of Energy, commenting in the Washington Examiner on August 12, 2013: “I still have not seen any evidence of fracking per se contaminating groundwater.”

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• Steven Chu, former secretary of the Department of Energy, as reported by The Columbus Dispatch on Sept. 18, 2013: “This (fracking) is something you can do in a safe way.”

• Sally Jewell, Secretary of the Interior, addressing The National Press Club on Oct. 31, 2013: “By using directional drilling and fracking, we have an opportunity to have a softer footprint on the land.”

Even Denton’s own representatives in the Texas House and Senate testified against the ban at the City Council meeting in July.

There’s no shortage of information for Denton voters to consider as they mark their ballots. The rest of Texas eagerly awaits their decision.

Alex Mills is president of the Texas Alliance of Energy Producers.