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Texas Fracking Case Draws National Environmental Groups

Denton, TX, anti-frackers are marshaling forces to defend the city's voter-approved and recently enacted ban on hydraulic fracturing (fracking) against a challenge by the oil and gas industry as well as a Texas state agency.

The local Denton Drilling Awareness Group (DAG), which created the "Frack Free Denton campaign," and national environmental group Earthworks, which supported the campaign, have filed to be defendant intervenors in a lawsuit against the city filed by the Texas Oil & Gas Association (TXOGA). Attorneys from environmental groups Earthjustice and the Natural Resources Defense Council, as well as from Texas law firm Brown & Hofmeister are providing legal support.

"Intervenors file this intervention petition as party defendants to provide a vigorous defense of the legality and enforceability of the [anti-fracking] ordinance," the DAG/Earthworks petition reads. "Had the original petition been filed [by TXOGA] against intervenors, as proponents of a prohibition on hydraulic fracturing within Denton's city limits and the sponsors of the ballot initiative that required enactment of the ordinance, intervenors would have been able to defeat TXOGA's claims by establishing that the ordinance is not preempted by state law."

The fracking ban took effect Tuesday. It does not stop currently producing wells. The city earlier this year enacted a moratorium on new wells, which was later extended (see Shale Daily, Sept. 12; May 12).

Last month, voters overwhelmingly approved a ban on fracking in Denton following robust campaigns by both sides that set a new spending record in the city (see Shale Daily, Nov. 5; Oct. 8). Almost immediately after the votes were counted, TXOGA filed a for an injunction, claiming that the ban " preempted by Texas state law and is therefore unconstitutional.

"The ban will result in the total inability to develop hydrocarbon interests within the city because wells in Denton produce gas from the Barnett Shale, and the only way to produce such gas in commercial quantities is through the use of hydraulic fracture stimulation of this dense shale formation that would not otherwise economically produce," TXOGA argued.

Also suing the city is the Texas General Land Office (GLO), which manages leases for state-owned mineral interests for the benefit of Texas public schools and the Texas Department of Aging and Disability Services. GLO argues that the Denton ban conflicts with the state constitution by preempting its ability to manage state mineral interests. GLO also argues that the Railroad Commission of Texas has jurisdiction over Denton oil and gas wells.

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