Also see: Exhausting Legal Options, Residents of Texas Town Take Direct Action to Enforce Fracking Ban
The city of Denton, Texas is in a showdown with Big Oil after it tried to pass a ban on fracking within its city limits. On Tuesday night, residents of Denton, about 30 miles north of Dallas-Fort Worth, packed a city council meeting to oppose a vote to repeal the ban. The vote was ultimately tabled. The move comes after Texas lawmakers passed a new law that prohibits such bans. The measure went into effect on Monday. That same morning, three protesters locked themselves to the entrance of the first fracking well to reopen. It was just this past November that nearly 60 percent of Denton residents supported the ban at the ballot box. But they were immediately threatened with lawsuits by the Texas Oil and Gas Association and the Texas General Land Office. Those same interests worked with lawmakers and the American Legislative Exchange Council, or ALEC, to pass this new ban on fracking bans known as House Bill 40. All of this comes as Oklahoma became the second state to ban fracking bans on Friday. Meanwhile, Maryland became the second state, after New York, to ban fracking. We are joined by Tara Linn Hunter, volunteer coordinator for Frack Free Denton.
AMY GOODMAN: “The Death of Democracy” by The Frackettes. The lead singer is our next guest. This is Democracy Now!, democracynow.org, The War and Peace Report. I’m Amy Goodman, with Juan González.
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Well, we turn now to Texas, where a small town finds itself in a showdown with Big Oil after it tried to pass a ban on fracking within its city limits. On Tuesday night, residents of Denton, about 30 miles north of Dallas-Fort Worth, packed a city council meeting to oppose a vote to repeal the ban. The vote was ultimately tabled. The move comes after Texas lawmakers passed a new law that prohibits such bans. The measure went into effect on Monday. That same morning, three protesters locked themselves to the entrance of the first fracking well to reopen. A police sergeant thanked the three and shook their hands before putting them in handcuffs.
AMY GOODMAN: It was just this past November that nearly 60 percent of Denton, Texas, residents supported the ban at the ballot box. But they were immediately threatened with lawsuits by the Texas Oil and Gas Association and the Texas General Land Office. Those same interests worked with lawmakers and the American Legislative Exchange Council, known as ALEC, to pass this new ban on fracking bans known as House Bill 40. Now residents could consider their own legal tactics. They are represented by the same lawyer who successfully defended a constitutional challenge to a fracking ban in Dryden, New York. All of this comes as Oklahoma became the second state to ban fracking bans on Friday. Meanwhile, Maryland became the second state, after New York, to ban fracking.
Well, for more, we go to Fort Worth, Texas, where we’re joined by Tara Linn Hunter, volunteer coordinator for Frack Free Denton. She was one of three people arrested Monday. Another three were arrested Tuesday.
Welcome to Democracy Now!, Tara. So, explain where Denton stands right now.
TARA LINN HUNTER: Well, right now, what we’re seeing is that our vote has been disregarded and overturned with the passage of House Bill 40. So that nullifies our ban and makes it unenforceable. And what we’re seeing now is that residents are willing to go out every morning to the frack site and put themselves on the line to enforce their ordinance and make the vote of the people heard.
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And the lawmakers can even make this ban on the ban retroactive?
TARA LINN HUNTER: Yes, that’s right. Our ban was completely legal. We went through the citizens’ initiative process to get that on the ballot. It’s a petition process. We only needed 500 signatures; we got 2,000. And we put it to a vote to the people of Denton. And they overwhelmingly voted to ban fracking. So it was a completely legal process that we followed. And then, they passed House Bill 40. They basically had to go change the law in order to beat us. So…
AMY GOODMAN: Tara Linn Hunter, before you tell us how you got arrested on Monday, talk about why you got involved with this issue.
TARA LINN HUNTER: Well, I got involved because I moved to Denton to study music, specifically singing. We’re known for our music and art in my town. I’m very proud of that. And while I was there, I developed debilitating adult asthma. So I started looking into our air quality issues, and I realized that Denton—the American Lung Association has given Denton an F-quality air. So I started researching the sources of air pollution, and then I came across fracking pretty quick.
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And the Legislature in Texas acts even as news has been coming out recently about the huge increase in earthquakes linked to fracking wells in nearby Oklahoma. What’s been the public response to this kind of information getting out throughout Texas?
TARA LINN HUNTER: Sure. People are very concerned. I attended a town hall meeting in Irving that was packed. Hundreds and hundreds of people poured out after feeling there homes shake. There’s injection wells near there. And people are very concerned and very upset.
AMY GOODMAN: And so, right in Denton and in its surrounding area, how much fracking is going on? What are the oil companies involved? Is there any connection to elected officials?
TARA LINN HUNTER: Absolutely. So, in Denton alone, we have 300 gas wells in our city limits. They’re less than 250 feet from homes. Some of the neighborhood signs actually wrap around the walls that surround the frack wells. So this is really—you know, it’s near our hospitals, our schools, so forth.
Some of the companies that are operating there, one of them is Vantage. One of them is EagleRidge. EagleRidge was caught dumping chemicals into Hickory Creek. Just a few weeks ago, Vantage had one of their wells explode just outside of a neighborhood. That fire went on for about seven hours. EagleRidge had a blowout near our airport. Homes were evacuated. That one, the blowout didn’t stop for 14 hours. And we found levels of benzene when we did air samples. So, these are some of the companies that are operating in our city.
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And you’ve said that your supposed elected officials have sold you out. Could you talk about those officials and their connection to the oil and gas industry?
TARA LINN HUNTER: Yeah, absolutely. So, our representative, Myra Crownover, our senator, Craig Estes, really disregarded their own constituents’ votes and voted for House Bill 40. The Texas Tribune does a wonderful job of laying out potential conflicts of interest, and they show, you know, how many of our politicians, including these two, are really oil-soaked and that they have direct investment in oil and gas and receive contributions, campaign contributions, from the oil and gas industry.
AMY GOODMAN: Three days later after Texas lawmakers voted to prohibit city bans on fracking, lighting struck a frack well in Denton and set it on fire. Resident Leah Strittmatter lives near the well and described what she saw.
LEAH STRITTMATTER: I saw, out of our kitchen window, orange reflecting off of our children’s playset. And I said, “John, lightning struck somewhere.” And I thought lightning had struck there, our yard or their playhouse. And we ran outside, and the heat from the immense flames just smacked us in the face. It was so hot. The flames that were coming off of the compression station was just massive. I kept trying to call 911 over and over, and nobody would answer. It kept going to a fast busy signal.
AMY GOODMAN: The well is operated by Vantage, the same company that opened new fracking sites in Denton this week after Texas lifted city bans on fracking. Just last month, a Vantage gas wellhead malfunctioned and began leaking fracking fluid in nearby Arlington, where dozens of homes were evacuated after the company took two hours to notify officials of the emergency. In December, the company agreed to pay a nearly $1 million fine after it violated waste disposal regulations at one of its oil wells in Franklin Township, Pennsylvania. So, Tara Linn Hunter, as we wrap up, can you talk about your arrest on Monday? I mean, presumably, the police come from your area. The police shook your hand and then handcuffed you?
TARA LINN HUNTER: That’s right. They were thanking us for our community service as they were arresting us. And when we got to the station, they let us out on personal recognizance, you know, saying that we’re not a threat to the community. I think that they’re very sympathetic to the cause, because if you live in Denton, you’re aware of the effects of fracking in your daily life. So I hope that that sympathy continues as we move forward. But it was a very civil exchange.
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And what are your next steps now, given now that the state Legislature has—and as well as Oklahoma’s Legislature, has banned the bans on fracking? And what do you hope to do next?
TARA LINN HUNTER: I think that our residents are very interested in seeing the city, you know, uphold the vote of the people. And so, last night we packed a city council meeting and unanimously requested that they not be the ones to repeal the ban themselves. So we’re looking at the best strategy moving forward. How can we fight House Bill 40? On a larger scale, how can we really tell—continue to tell our powerful narrative of a small Texas town standing up to a billion-dollar industry? It’s a real David-and-Goliath story. On the ground, we’re continuing our education efforts to get people—
AMY GOODMAN: Tara Linn Hunter, we’re going to have to leave it there. I want to thank you for being with us, volunteer coordinator for Frack Free Denton, arrested Monday as part of the protests to stop the first new fracking well since Denton residents voted to pass a fracking ban last November. And she’s lead singer with The Frackettes.
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