The Undoing of a Denton Thing

During the campaign for the fracking ban, we made one point very clear: this is a Denton thing. It’s not just that the ban applies only in the city limits of Denton. It’s also that the citizens of Denton were uniquely vulnerable to the harms and nuisances of fracking. Past municipal policies combined with state laws to create conditions where frack sites could be located in extreme proximity to homes despite our best efforts to adopt reasonable protections.

Indeed, we tried for years to find workable solutions. In the end, we were left with the regrettable choice of either the ban or sacrificing our health and safety.

The ban, however, is not just a Denton thing for our state legislators. Rep. Phil King, for example, is still spouting crazed lies about the involvement of “out-of-state liberal political groups.” Rather than a local, non-partisan movement for commonsense land use reform (bakeries are not allowed in neighborhoods, but frack sites are!?), he spins the Denton ban as part of a vast anti-fossil fuel, anti-American conspiracy.

This is the same rhetoric that was used (oh so successfully!) during the campaign. And now it is painfully clear why state leaders want things framed in such an apocryphal light. It gives them cover for adopting draconian, scorched-earth policies (like HB 40 by Darby R, San-Angelo) to annihilate local regulation of oil and gas. They are even going so far as to propose the elimination of home rule (SB 343 by Huffines R, Dallas), which would effectively centralize all political power in Austin.

The fracking ban couldn’t be just a Denton thing for the plutocrats in Austin, because then they’d have to actually do their homework about the conditions that led to the problem. And they’d have to actually propose meaningful fixes in an attempt to prevent a similar situation from arising again. This would entail revising state laws about vested rights and the mineral estate that they are too cowardly to touch, because it would offend their corporate patrons.

Rather than propose policy fixes grounded in the gritty realities of urban fracking, they’ve invented a bogeyman of collectivist “California nightmares” to justify their legislative extremism. In a surreal political circus, they’ve transformed a local land use and safety issue into a state war on cities. In so doing, they’ve completely put the lie to their supposed commitments to small government and local control. They’ve packed all of their perverse ideological clowns into the little car that is Denton.

Their arrogance and ignorance is shocking. I can understand not liking the fracking ban. But why did our so-called representatives never take the time to learn exactly what happened in Denton to force us to this point? Why did they not visit or set up conferences with the people? There has been not one sincere effort to listen and dialogue or one gesture that the ban was a result of state policies that fail to protect people. They only put us in one of their ready-made boxes reserved for lunatics and used their misinformed anger to write bills to please the special interests they really work for.

Representative Darby’s HB 40 is the latest act in the circus. It seeks to expressly preempt municipal control of oil and gas development.

HB 40 claims that Texas has successfully balanced the goals of maximizing mineral production while protecting the environment and public health and safety. Insofar as this balance has been accomplished, it’s only because of the crucial role that has long been played by cities in regulating oil and gas development. Without cities, for example, there are no setback requirements greater than100 feet. There are no nuisance mitigation measures. So, by the bill’s own logic, cities have been essential to oil and gas development in Texas.

But Darby (who is only the piper playing the tune called by the Texas Oil and Gas Association) then turns around and undermines a key piece of the very success story that he extols by gutting city authority. Yet, one provision in the bill actually seems to allow cities to do what they’ve done all along. So, what’s going on here?

Again, if this was about crafting rational policies, there would be no way to explain it. We have to see it as a political stunt, a kind of chest-thumping Morse code to the powers that be. I’ve come to think of Austin as a kind of jungle where lawmakers engage in a great deal of symbolic, turf-defining posturing, peeing, and preening without any indication they actually care about writing sensible laws that could do some good in the world.

Now, I don’t mean to impugn all of our state lawmakers. I’m sure many are quite civic-spirited. I can’t say the same, however, about those who have turned a Denton thing into an excuse to further entrench industry power and further eviscerate protections for health, safety, property rights, and quality of life. Or perhaps just an excuse to grab the spotlight to showcase their own zaniness.

Fresh off our empowering experience at the local level, we are now getting a different flavor of ‘democracy’ at the state level. There it is reduced to frantically calling and visiting offices located hours away in an effort to kill devastating bills…bills that are so obnoxious we can never be sure that anyone seriously intended them to go anywhere in the first place.

Say what you will about City Hall. At least there you don’t have to deal with these bizarre ritualistic dances of industry and ideologues.

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10 thoughts on “The Undoing of a Denton Thing

  1. So you folks from outside our city have the nerve to Myra Crownover vulgar names and assume you know what is best for our city. Go back to Colorado, Montana, Maryland where you have a stake and leave Texas alone. Many of us are native Denton people and our economy thrives because of the industries that created its robust strength.

  2. Myra Crownover is a good person as was her late husband. We have lived and gone to Church with her family. It does not forward your cause to call her vilgar names and just goes to show you do not belong in Denton. Your ignorance is offensive!

    Gary Claytor

  3. America is now WE THE CORPORATIONS instead of WE THE PEOPLE . It is a real shame. Bought & paid for politicians, mostly Republican. They always use their “labels” ” liberal” for one. I’m a liberal & proud of it. I care about people, animals & the environment. If our lawmakers don’t care about us & our needs it’s time to replace them.

  4. You mention Representative Darby in your article. Although he may have proposed several bills against municipal authority in favor of oil and gas interests, please remember that he was awarded the Oil & Natural Gas Industries Texas Legislative Champion Award in 2013. We already knew whose interests he serves. His hypocrisy is evident because he touts on his website that he is “a strong fiscal conservative and a business owner, who believes that keeping taxes low, maintaining a predictable regulatory environment and a fair court system are the keys to keeping the Texas economy strong.” How can he claim to support a predictable regulatory environment and then remove municipally provided predictability that surface developers have in areas pot marked with oil and gas sites? The ‘Texas Miracle’ is not a benefit of chance that Texas happens to be home to oil and gas reserves and other states are not. The miracle is the result of the ability municipal governments have to offer development certainty to land owners, for example when they want to move a corporate headquarters from California to Plano, without concerns that a drilling company could potentially stake claim to the same property.

    Another two-faced position for good ol’ Rep. Darby is that he previously served on the San Angelo City Council and helped oversee a series of regulations for the city that serve as a precursor theory for co-location. The City of Denton appears to be building off the stipulation Rep. Darby administered as a City Councilmember. Section 5.07.006 of San Angelo’s Oil and Gas Drilling ordinance (Article 5.07 of Chapter 5 of their Code of Ordinances) requires applicants to identify drilling units in their application for a municipal permit. The Drilling Unit, similarly to Denton’s co-location proposal, requires the application to show the location of a proposed well, and the size and configuration of each drilling unit. Each drilling unit shall be as nearly in the shape of a square or rectangle as possible, taking into consideration such matters as existing property and lease lines, boundaries of previously designated drilling units, natural boundaries, availability of drill sites and other pertinent factors. None of the acreage within any proposed drilling unit for a well shall have previously been included within a drilling unit for any other well. It is the intention of San Angelo’s ordinance to provide for the orderly and efficient drilling and development of oil and gas production within the city limits, and to this end the City Council shall have authority to require amendments to the configuration of any proposed drilling unit as a condition to the granting of a permit.

    Rep. Darby was satisfied keeping the authority with his City Council to require amendments to the configuration of any proposed drilling unit, but he is not happy with other municipalities doing the same now that he moved to Austin. Maybe we should all forget his time as a City Councilmember and the double standard he supports, or maybe we should just award him the Oil & Natural Gas Industries Texas Legislative Champion Award for 2015 already. After all, Romney is credited with creating the blueprint for Obamacare, but was allowed to distance himself from it later—why can Rep. Darby take credit for creating municipal co-location authority and then distance himself from it later too? I guess we should not expect a strong fiscal conservative and a business owner, who believes in maintaining a predictable regulatory environment, to actually maintain a predictable regulatory environment.

  5. Alan – this is a fascinating analysis, thank you. Can you provide any links to your remarks about his role in that drilling ordinance and his award from the industry? That can be very helpful.

  6. Adam, very well stated, as usual. The hypocrisy of the right is astonishing, at the very least. They CLAIM to favor local control over local matters on the basis that local citizens know what is best for them, and that centralized (big) government is a detriment to freedom, then they turn around and attempt to usurp that local authority in favor of centralized government. Republicans (and some Democrats) are talking out of both sides of their mouths, but they are most certainly keeping a hand out for the petro dollars that fund their re-election campaigns.

    Currently, there are 5 House and 4 Senate bills pending in the Texas Legislature that seek to restrict or eliminate Home Rule Authority. Some are limited to oil and gas regulation, but others are general in nature and would eliminate ANY local control, such as banning plastic bags, keeping sexually oriented businesses away from neighborhoods and schools, keeping liquor stores away from neighborhoods and schools, setting zoning laws to protect people and neighborhoods from things that destroy the quality of life and property values, or prohibiting activities that are detrimental to our public parks.

    Note to Republicans: You CANNOT claim to favor local control over local issues while simultaneously attempting to strip away local control in favor of Big Government at the state or federal level without showing your complete hypocrisy!

  7. Gary Claytor, what is even more offensive is when somebody like you uses lies about how the oil and gas industry has helped the Denton economy “thrive and has “created its robust strength.”

    For a fact, the total number of oil and gas industry jobs created in Denton is a small fraction of 1% of all jobs in Denton, and the total economic impact is an insignificant portion of the overall local economy. Adam Briggle can give you exact figures that refute everything you claimed. He has already presented that information to the Denton City Council in public hearings that are on the record.

    People like you repeat the lies of the industry as if they were true when they are anything BUT the truth. You will never allow facts to get in the way of the lies you tell to rationalize your perspective, but in the event you missed it Denton citizens voted 59-41% to ban hydraulic fracturing inside city limits. That is called “democracy” and if you don’t like it, then I suggest you move to Russia, China, Iran to somewhere else that does not like democracy.

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