by Cindy Spoon, University of North Texas, Denton, TX
Against industry-stacked task forces and corrupt council dealings.
The past few years of organizing in Denton, Tex. have taught me a lot about just how rigged the gas drilling game really is at the local level.
In this mid-sized college town the city council is in the midst of Phase II of their ordinance writing process, and what comes out of that process will regulate how gas drillers operate in Denton.
But the whole process has proved to be nothing but a sham.
An official city gas drilling task force meets every Monday to address key focus areas, like air quality and water contamination and vote on specific “action items” that the task force essentially recommends that the city council vote for in a gas drilling ordinance—and that language has to, of course, pass through a team of legal writers and engineers before the council votes on it.
But the task force is stacked with industry representatives, including Ed Ireland of the Barnett Shale ‘Energy Education Council,’ who basically gets paid to tell people, including children, that fracking is good—and it only gets worse.
Two of the task force officials aren’t even citizens of Denton, but they are deciding what items will be considered for Denton’s drilling ordinance. Both are industry reps.
And this, among a laundry list of fracking concerns, has been what a community of activists and families in Denton have been criticizing before their city council and before the gas drilling task force meetings. The public’s comments have always been overwhelmingly in favor of strict regulations on fracking in the city or for an outright ban on the practice.
Communities in Denton have been organizing actively against fracking since 2009, when a gas well was erected across from a local park, hospital, retirement home and neighborhood, staging protests and speaking out in city forums.
And that action has paid off since the city council voted unanimously to pass a 120-day drilling moratorium in February while the farce of a task force continues to move through the motions of recommendations for the council on an ordinance.
Clearly, we still have our work cut out for us.
More recently, a natural gas power plant project was approved not by Denton voters, where the plant will be constructed, but by the state legislature. The industry and their friends in local government are escalating their tactics by going around the voters and by sending in Astroturf groups into the task force meetings to advocate for natural gas.
These industry representatives parade themselves as concerned citizens and do not give their addresses when speaking before the official city task force, and that’s because they are not from my town—they’re from Fort. Worth, Tex. They also say things like wind turbines kill birds to justify fracking in the Barnett Shale.
The industry doesn’t just have friends in local city governments—they have friends in the FBI who are tracking my friends because they fear students like us, organizing against fracking are ‘eco-terrorists.’
But with a moratorium in place, and a city election approaching we are not intimidated. Instead we are going to continue organizing until Denton has regulations that will actually protect the health and safety of its citizens, and we will continue to do that through direct action as well as through electoral politics.