Denton became the first Texas city to ban hydraulic fracturing Tuesday after a citizen-driven proposition cruised to a landslide victory at the polls.
Final returns showed the fracking ban passing by a whopping 59-41 percent margin all night long. While dozens of cities in New York and elsewhere have banned fracking, Texas is oil and gas country. So Denton’s proposition over the rights of a Texas city to police what happens within its borders pushed it into the national spotlight.
Ed Soph, treasurer of Pass the Ban, said the turnout sent a message.
“The responsible citizens of Denton have spoken — loudly and clearly,” Soph said.
Bobby Jones, co-chairman of pro-fracking committee Denton Taxpayers for a Strong Economy, did not return calls for comment on election results Tuesday night.
Ed Longanecker, president of the Texas Independent Producers and Royalty Owners Association, said the outcome was unfortunate and ultimately will be decided in the courts.
“At risk are not only our constitutional rights, but also the loss of high-paying jobs, much-needed tax revenue, access to low-cost electricity and further exploitation by activist groups seeking to advance their anti-oil and gas ideology,” Longanecker said in an email. “We will just have to see how much damage is done in the interim.”
The campaign was, by far, the most expensive in the city’s history, with opponents of the ban far outraising and outspending the ban’s proponents. Pass the Ban raised nearly $75,000 through Oct. 25, but that was dwarfed by the amounts raised by Denton Taxpayers.
Denton Taxpayers pulled in close to $700,000 through Oct. 25, the latest campaign finance reporting date. Chevron and Occidental Petroleum kicked in $95,000 even though neither operates any gas wells in Denton. EnerVest, XTO Energy and Devon Energy all made six-figure donations that totaled more than $540,000.
In the final days before the election, Denton Taxpayers had ads running in print, broadcast and social media, many of them with an image of a pink piggy bank being smashed by a gavel.
The pro-fracking group secured support from the North Texas State Fair Association, the Denton Chamber of Commerce and the Denton County Republican Party, which bought its own ads opposing the ban. In the end, party loyalty wasn’t enough to sway the grass-roots support for the ban.
Cathy McMullen, who helped spearhead the petition to ban fracking, said Pass the Ban had more than 50 volunteers greeting voters at every Denton polling place Tuesday, despite the rain and cold.
Voters appreciated the information cards that helped them understand the proposition language and make the choice they intended to, McMullen said.
“We really believed in it [the ban],” McMullen said. “Everybody who worked on this believed in it with their whole heart.”
The City Council will canvass the election Nov. 18.
“The ban should take effect about Dec. 2, pending anything that may occur,” said Mayor Chris Watts, referring to a possible legal challenge to the city’s authority to ban fracking.
Outgoing Texas Land Commissioner Jerry Patterson suggested in July that his office would sue the city if it enacted the ban, citing the state’s interest in being able to develop minerals on state-owned land in Denton.
David Porter, commissioner with the Texas Railroad Commission, issued a statement saying he, too, was disappointed in the outcome.
“As the senior energy regulator in Texas, I am disappointed that Denton voters fell prey to scare tactics and mischaracterizations of the truth in passing the hydraulic fracturing ban,” Porter wrote.
The City Council has been working on revising its ordinance to address other nuisance issues associated with the hundreds of wells that are operating in the city, Watts said.
PEGGY HEINKEL-WOLFE can be reached at 940-566-6881 and via Twitter at @phwolfeDRC.