Lawyers for Texas and its powerful oil and gas industry won’t let Denton out of their sights – even after the North Texas city conceded that the Legislature defanged its six-month-old ban on hydraulic fracturing.
The Texas Oil and Gas Association (TXOGA) and the state’s General Land Office (GLO) have expanded the scope of their lawsuits against Denton, with both taking aim at the city’s moratorium on new gas drilling in addition to the fracking ban the city is no longer enforcing. In amended complaints filed Monday, both parties argued that a new state law preempting local control over a wide range of oil and gas activities– House Bill 40 – should quickly erase both policies from the city’s books.
Nearly 59 percent of Denton voters supported the fracking ban last November, making the city of about 123,000 the first to outlaw the use of high-pressure water to shatter underground shale and release stored oil and gas.
After City Voted Against Fracking, Petroleum Groups Filed Suits
Just hours after health and environmental advocates proclaimed victory, TXOGA, the state’s largest petroleum group, and the General Land Office, which manages the state’s mineral interests, filed separate suits calling the ban unconstitutional. Both lawsuits are now in Denton County district court.
The Legislature, meanwhile, responded by passing HB 40, which preempts local regulation of all “below ground oil and gas activities” – like bans on hydraulic fracturing or drilling – and says all other related local regulations must be “commercially reasonable.” Gov. Greg Abbott quickly signed the bill into law.
Even before Denton made international headlines by banning fracking, its city council adopted a moratorium on issuing new permits for gas drilling. That temporary stoppage of drilling dates backs to May 2014 and was extended several times. The council put it in place “to maintain the status quo within the corporate limits of the city” as it weighed efforts to beef up the city’s drilling regulations.
Fracking Operations Resume
Vantage Energy, a natural gas operator, resumed fracking operations inside the city earlier this month, effectively negating an ordinance that Denton officials concede they can no longer enforce. But the city has not officially overturned either law.
In its fresh legal filings, the petroleum group and the state argue that HB 40 renders both the city’s fracking ban and moratorium unenforceable.
The groups are asking the court for a partial summary judgment – a quick ruling that would strike down Denton’s laws without a full trial.
Denton officials said they are still digesting the filings.
“We are currently reviewing the document to determine our next steps,” Lindsey Baker, the city’s spokeswoman, said.