Fracking banned in its birthplace: Texas town votes to outlaw hydraulic fracturing

 Reuters / Terry Wade
Voters in Denton, Texas approved a ban on hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, on Tuesday, making the city the first in Texas to outlaw the controversial gas-extraction process.

The ban is likely to garner legal challenges, but, for now, supporters celebrating the landmark vote in a state famous for oil and gas development.

"Denton, Texas is where hydraulic fracturing was invented," said Bruce Baizel, Earthworks energy program director, according to Reuters. "If this place in the heart of the oil and gas industry can’t live with fracking, then who can?"

Denton, a city of 123,000 people, is within the Barnett shale formation, where fracking was first developed. Polls showed the measure to ban fracking passed with 58 percent support out of the 25,376 ballots cast.

According to Reuters, fracking opponents in Denton said drilling operations near residential areas are often noisy, can dominate local water supplies, and cause high traffic on nearby roads.

Fracking supporters in the energy industry vowed to fight the ban.

"It's essentially a ban on all drilling," said Ed Ireland, executive director of the Barnett Shale Energy Education Council, an energy industry mouthpiece. "No one would try to drill a well if they can't frack it, and that will unleash a torrent of lawsuits."

Anti-fracking groups were outspent 10-to-1 during the campaign, Reuters reported citing local media.

The city’s decision to ban the practice comes amid a nationwide fracking boom that is not without major detractions that have triggered resistance from coast to coast.

To unleash oil or natural gas, fracking requires blasting large volumes of highly pressurized water, sand, and other chemicals into layers of rock. The contents of fracking fluid include chemicals that the energy industry and many government officials will not name, yet they insist the chemicals do not endanger human health, contradicting findings by scientists and environmentalists. Toxic fracking wastewater is then either stored in deep underground wells, disposed of in open pits for evaporation, sprayed into waste fields, or used over again.

Fracking has been linked to groundwater contamination, an uptick in earthquakes, exacerbation of drought conditions and a host of health concerns for humans and the local environment.

Energy giant Exxon Mobil was the first to use hydraulic fracking, in the Barnett shale area. The company’s CEO, an ardent fracking evangelist, was involved in a lawsuit as of earlier this year to rid his own suburban Texas neighborhood of fracking, operations of which were “creating a noise nuisance and traffic hazards,” according to the suit.

Meanwhile, cities in Ohio and California also voted on fracking-ban measures, with mixed results. The Ohio cities of Gates Mills, Kent, and Youngstown voted down bans, while the town of Athens approved one. Santa Barbara County, California rejected a ban, while Mendocino and San Benito counties voted to outlaw the practice.

The local ordinances against fracking run afoul of state law that allow the process in both Ohio and California. Similar local bans have been passed in states like Colorado, where state officials have worked to supersede voter-approved bans through the legal system.

Denton, 30 miles (50 km) north of Dallas, is home to about 270 drilling wells, according to Reuters.