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October 28, 2014

Outside Money Flows Into Denton Fracking Debate

IPI expert referenced: Tom Giovanetti | In The News | Media Hit

DENTON — It would be a first law of its kind in Texas, and that's saying something in a state with longtime ties to the oil and gas industry.

On Tuesday, Denton city voters will decide whether to ban fracking within city limits.

The move comes after months of increasing frustration for some residents over drilling operations that they say have disrupted their way of life . The same group felt the city council did little to ease their concerns.

As election day approaches, it appears outside entities are funneling more and more money into the race.

Close to $80,000 has gone to the "Pass the Ban" committee, with more than half of that coming from the Washington D.C.-based environmental group Earthworks.

The figure pales in comparison to what oil and gas companies have donated for efforts opposing the ban.

Money piling up in fracking fight

According to the latest campaign finance reports, XTO Energy, Devon and EnerVest have each donated more than $150,000 to the "Denton Taxpayers for a Strong Economy" specific-purpose committee. That committee has raised nearly $700,000 overall.

Political observers say the money may ultimately have an impact, but perhaps not the one most people expect.

"A lot of Denton citizens have been inundated with mailers and billboards," said Matthew Eshbaugh-Soha, an associate political science professor at the University of North Texas. "Sometimes people that aren't that informed about the issue might push back against that."

But Eshbaugh-Soha also pointed out the ballot issue may fail if voter turnout is high in an area so richly tied to the oil and gas history.

"We know there are more Republicans than Democrats, and if people perceive this to be a partisan issue than this benefits the 'no' side," he said.

Tom Giovanetti, who lives in Denton County but outside of the city limits, says voters need to consider the legal ramifications that could come along with an outright ban.

"There could be years of litigation, and hundreds of thousand in legal costs," he said. "Literally, millions of dollars in settlements."

Giovanetti, who runs the right-leaning Institute for Policy Innovation, said there also could be a potential economy loss of up to $250 million over the coming decade.

But, that concept is disputed by some in Denton. Council member Kevin Roden penned a well-read blog post in July saying he expected a negligible economic impact because less than one percent of local jobs were directly tied to the industry.

Alyse Ogletree, who lives within 200 feet of a well, says she can't believe the industry continues to operate so close to so many homes in her subdivision, The Meadows at Hickory Creek.

"There is nothing that can put my mind at peace," she said. "No money would've made me happy. It would've been them moving out. They don't belong this close to homes."

Some residents in her neighborhood sued Eagle Ridge Energy earlier this year because of the company's fracking operations.

No public polls have been released on the drilling ban vote, but Eshbaugh-Soha said it's likely it will be very close.

The city has already reworked its local drilling ordinance to no longer allow drilling within 1,200 feet of a home but that doesn't apply to previously permitted sites.


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