DENTON - Clean air and water are the cornerstones of any healthy community, but lately they've become harder to come by. Oil and gas have long been at the foundations of the Texan economy, but now with the new extraction technique known as "hydraulic fracturing", that oil is being artificially shaken from the bedrock of our land and sucked up into the ever larger pockets of the tycoons running the industry in the form of huge profits to the tune of around $100 billion per year.
Hydraulic fracturing isn't a new technique, but only in recent years has it caught on as a method of choice in oil extraction. In olden days, oil drillers would have to play a chance game of where to drill an oil well and hope that they don't hit dry rock. With this technique, companies use hydropower to blast the bedrock of the earth to loosen the bedrock and access oil otherwise trapped underneath it. It reduces risk of wells going dry and boosts productivity. But after a moment's thought, you might wonder if this 'fracking' could have any effect on water supplies with all that groundwater resting on top of the bedrock in the way to the precious oil. Well, that depends on who you ask.
The big oil companies who practice fracking all officially claim that there is no risk posed to communities or the environment. Scientists disagree, citing a clear link between fracking and grondwater contamination, as well as a much broader effect on the global climate in releasing massive amounts of methane into the atmosphere, a gas which acts as a more potent greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide, thus accelerating the rate of global warming and climate change. If you do a quick google search of the effects of fracking, one of the first things you'll see is the viral video of a kitchen sink shooting out flames as flamable frack-water comes out the pipes.
While fracking remains legal under federal and state laws, many communities are organizing to get it banned. Last November, the town of Denton, located just outside the Dallas-Ft Worth metroplex, became one of those communities, passing a full ban on fracking in their community. According to the campaign Frack-Free Denton, there are over 270 active gas wells in Denton and most of the town's mineral wealth is owned by people who don't even live there. With the most polluted air, Denton has the highest rates of childhood asthma in Texas.
On the 4th of May, after $21.3 million in lobbying on behalf of ever more invasive and secretive oil and gas companies, the state legislature overruled the ban by passing HB 40 which effectively preempts all local control over oil and gas production. The bill's author Drew Darby, Republican of district 72, claimed that the bill solves a diar problem faced by oil and gas companies, being that they have to deal with a diverse and complicated quilt of local laws and regulations in order to get their work done. However, there were already 300 local ordinances effectively regulating oil and gas companies in Texas, while Texas has long led the US in oil and gas production. Said one supporter of the Frack-Free Denton campaign: "What has essentially happened is the party of 'small-government' has made an unprecedented step towards centralizing government power and criminalizing local communities trying to govern themselves."
Faced with this direct push back from the state government, Denton is not backing down. Immediately following the move by the legislature, Frack-Free Denton began organizing civil disobedience training events. Yesterday, the 27th of May, fracking officially resumed in Denton. Locals blockaded the entrance, with one even so cheeky as to bring the Gadston "Don't Tread On Me" flag, a symbol used by the far-right tea party faction of the Republicans financed in great part by the oil and gas companies. Faced with overwhelming police presence, however, the protesters were forced to allow the trucks to enter and for fracking operations to resume.
Frack-Free Denton plans on continuing its fight against oil and gas companies dictating their laws and for the right of the community to govern itself.