The fact that voters in a north Texas town approved a ban on hydraulic fracturing or fracking within its city limits may not have any immediate practical consequences, but it’s a symbolic statement likely to resonate north of the Red River into Oklahoma.
In last week’s election, by a 59 to 41 percent margin Denton voters approved the ban. Denton is just north of Dallas and has been a prime and productive location for fracking, an oil and gas extraction method that many environmentalists oppose. Environmentalists there specifically argued that fracking in the city has contributed to noise pollution, poor air quality and earthquakes that scientists have linked to wastewater disposal wells used in the extraction process.
The vote apparently doesn’t matter for at least one state official, Texas Railroad Commissioner Christi Craddock, who said she will continue to issue permits for fracking in Denton because the city doesn’t have the authority to deny them. In other words, the fracking in Denton will continue despite the vote.
The oil and gas industry, of course, is most often connected to conservative politics or ideology, which supposedly privileges local control of any given issue. The fracking issue in Denton complicates that argument for conservatives. Local governments can’t and shouldn’t pass laws without legal challenge that supersede state or federal law-what about laws that discriminate, for example?-but they should be able to protect their basic viability and self-interest. What is the impact of fracking on the health of any city’s residents? What about home values? What if the fracking boom negatively affects a city’s businesses? These are core issues related to a city’s basic survival, and residents have a constitutional right to protest and take legal action, such as voting in favor of a referendum or filing lawsuits.
Denton is just one of many local cities throughout the country that have become concerned with the environmental impact of a fracking boom that has now led to a glut of oil in world markets. Fracking is the extraction process in which water laced with sand and chemicals is injected by high pressure underground to create fissures in rock formations that release oil and gas. The leftover water/chemical substance is then injected by high pressure into wastewater disposal wells or injection wells.
The fact that a Texas city has become fed up with the destructive environmental impact of fracking carries heavy symbolic value throughout the country, especially here in Oklahoma. Oil and gas companies and their surrogates can’t stereotype the city’s residents as environmental radical leftists. These are people basically concerned about their home values and their quality of life. They are undoubtedly a lot like Oklahomans.
A fairly recent study conducted by the Associated Press showed there have been hundreds of complaints filed by people in four states, including Texas, that claim the fracking process has contaminated water. The other states are Ohio, Pennsylvania and West Virginia. Scientists recently have also linked the injection-well process to a surge in earthquakes. Oklahoma, which is also experiencing a fracking boom, has seen a dramatic surge in earthquakes over the last few years.
The overall larger issue is the impact on the planet by the extraction and burning of fossil fuels. Our planet is getting warmer, leading to rising sea levels that could threaten the existence of major coastal cities. Our oceans have become more acidic because of carbon emissions, threatening the planet’s eco system.
President Barack Obama and Chinese President Xi Jinping announced an agreement Tuesday to cut carbon emissions in future years, an agreement quickly denounced by Republicans. The implementation of the agreement, of course, will be problematic and difficult to monitor, but at least it’s a starting point. The planet, however, may have already reached a tipping point that means we can’t avoid major damage to the planet.
As I’ve written many times, the larger answer is to develop more renewable energy sources, such as solar and wind power and hydropower, that have less of a negative impact on the environment than fossil fuels. We also need to build more public transportation systems, such as high-speed railway lines. We have the answers and technology to power our planet and move ourselves around it efficiently and comfortably while also significantly reducing our environmental footprint. Fracking isn’t one of the answers.