The framed newspaper article in Adam Briggle’s office with the headline “Fracking banned” is from last November. It already reads like ancient history.
The north Texas city of Denton became a beacon for the anti-fracking movement when residents voted to prohibit the practice inside city limits . But victory was fleeting. The oil and gas industry was alarmed by the grassroots insurgency and the state’s Republican politicians struck back with a flurry of measures aimed at asserting the primacy of state control over local regulations.
On Monday the Texas governor, Greg Abbott, signed House Bill 40, a law that in effect bans Denton’s ban and others like it elsewhere in the state. On Wednesday, trucks were moving equipment on to a future fracking site in a field by a busy road on the western outskirts of town.
“They’ve just handed the golden ticket to the oil and gas industry,” said Briggle, president of the Denton Drilling Awareness group and a philosophy professor at the University of North Texas.
A well pad sits only a couple of hundred feet from Apogee Stadium, home of the university’s Mean Green football team. But then, in this town of 125,000 people on the Barnett Shale about 40 miles northwest of downtown Dallas, well pads are close to lots of things. There are 280 wells within city limits.
At worst, activists say, they are health and environmental hazards that produce noise and toxic fumes and suppress property values. At best they are eyesores dividing opinion and pockmarking a place that is solidly Republican but fancies itself as a laid-back cultural hub that is something of a miniature Austin.
Briggle arrived in Denton with his family in 2009 and discovered that three wells were being built in a neighbourhood where they had planned to move. It sparked an interest in hydraulic fracturing that quickly became a concern.
“What kind of town is going to be proud that they site industrial activities 200ft from kids’ bedrooms?” the 38-year-old said. “That’s crazy.”
Abbott said the state bill does a “profound job of protecting private property rights” by allowing mineral owners to exploit their land.
Todd Staples, president of the Texas Oil and Gas Association and previously the Texas agriculture commissioner, said the law “balances local control and property rights, while allowing Texas to continue to benefit from billions of dollars in annual state and local taxes that directly fund our schools, roads and essential services.”
Briggle, though, argues that the Texas energy industry was already thriving under the existing mix of local and statewide regulation and that most rights owners are not from Denton, meaning there is limited financial benefit for the community.
“I don’t think anyone who’s supporting local control here thinks it’s an absolute value. You don’t have the right to maximise the profit from your property at the expense of others around you,” he said. “Oil and gas is allowed in every zone [in Denton, yet] bakeries aren’t allowed in every zone because there’s a bit of morning truck traffic.”
In some parts of town, yellow poles the height of mailboxes seem to be on every street corner. They are markers warning of underground pipelines carrying gas from nearby wells. Signs a stone’s throw from houses caution: “Danger – no smoking”.
At a bucolic-sounding new subdivision called Meadows at Hickory Creek, the middle-class suburban American dream collides with the Lone Star State’s business-first approach to energy regulation.
Big, smart houses line neat and quiet streets surrounded by fields, with convenient access to the interstate and a good school district. A 2,500 sq ft property can be bought for less then $250,000. Just off Vintage Boulevard, where more homes are being built, there is a square of fenced-off land. In other cities it’s the kind of space where developers would place a small park or playground. In Denton, it’s a fracking site. Two beige-coloured tanks protrude above the fence.
Maile Bush lives here, less than 500ft from a well pad. She believes the fumes are making her family sick and is reluctant to let her young children play outside.
“When we moved in you couldn’t tell it was a well pad site,” she said. “Should we move? We weighed up … but this is my life, these are my friends. We’d have to move off the shale in order to feel safe.”
Even an urban area as densely populated as Arlington, the seventh-largest city in Texas and the location of the Dallas Cowboys and Texas Rangers sports stadiums, has 300 active gas wells. Last month, residents were evacuated because of a leak from a well adjacent to a church and dozens of homes, half a mile from an elementary school and a senior care centre.
Bush said that the passage of HB40 has left many activists “overall probably disheartened” and “kind of tired” but determined to carry on.
“I don’t think we’re really surprised,” she said. “Money speaks louder than the voice of the people.”
A spokeswoman for the city of Denton did not respond to requests for comment. The mayor, Chris Watts, told the Denton Record-Chronicle city leaders were deciding on their next move. Activists said they anticipate the bill may prompt protests and litigation and are turning their attention to holding politicians accountable.
“The state is doing a lot to protect industry but it doesn’t feel like they’re doing a lot to protect people who vote for them. I don’t know what else we do except vote them out and that’s my focus now,” said Cathy McMullen, a home-help nurse who became an energetic anti-fracking advocateafter she and her husband moved to Denton to get away from a well that sprang up near their ranch in a neighbouring county, only for more gas wells to materialise close to their new home soon after they had moved in
According to the Texas Municipal League there are hundreds of municipalities with drilling regulations that could be affected by the new legislation.
“The industry might win this battle but I don’t know that they’re going to win the war,” McMullen said.“I’m talking to people from cities all over Texas who are going to fight back.”
‘There is no managing Donald Trump’: White House Republicans blasted for their myth of ‘adults in the room’
Republicans who thought they could manage Donald Trump were taken down in The New Yorker on Tuesday.
The Susan Glasser article was titled, "The spectacular failure of the Trump wranglers."
"On Tuesday, nearly seven hours into the marathon third day of public impeachment hearings, Kurt Volker tried to explain to the House Intelligence Committee what it was like to carry out the nearly impossible task of wrangling U.S. policy toward Ukraine during the Presidency of Donald Trump," Glasser wrote. "Volker, a veteran Republican diplomat who had been serving, since 2017, as Trump’s Special Representative to Ukraine, said that he realized last spring that he had a 'problem,' and that it was Trump himself.
BUSTED: Trump’s White House sent out anti-Vindman talking points — trashing their own staffer
President Donald Trump's war on his own employees escalated on Tuesday when the White House spread talking points designed to result in a coordinated attack on a decorated active-duty Army officer.
"The Trump White House has taken the extraordinary step of distributing talking points to allies of the president trashing one of its employees," The Daily Beast reported after obtaining a copy of the document.
"On Tuesday morning, White House aide Julia Hahn emailed Trump surrogates under the subject line, “Vindman’s Complaints Are Nothing More Than Policy Disagreements,” according to messages reviewed by The Daily Beast. Hahn, a Steve Bannon protege and one of his former allies in the White House, works on outreach and communications involving pro-Trump talking heads and other players in conservative media," The Beast reported.
Don Lemon notes the GOP panic after their own witnesses gave testimony harming Trump: ‘Worried much?’
CNN anchor Don Lemon explained how witnesses called by Republicans in the impeachment inquiry destoryed the defenses employed by President Donald Trump and his allies.
"Now, let's just be honest, the shakedown -- that's exactly what it is -- the shakedown is exposed, people," Lemon said.
"And the evidence comes from the Republican's own witnesses," he noted. "The former envoy to Ukraine, Kurt Volker -- who resigned just one day after the release of the whistleblower's report -- telling the president's defenders exactly what they did not want to hear."
"They called him apparently expecting him to say what he said in his closed-door testimony, that he saw no evidence of a quid pro quo, or let's call it for what it is again -- a shakedown," he continued. "Well, now he says he was wrong."