Voters approved a ban on hydraulic fracturing in the north Texas town of Denton on Tuesday, making it the first city in the Lone Star State to outlaw the oil and gas extraction technique behind the U.S. energy boom.
The vote in the city of 123,000 was highly symbolic because hydraulic fracturing, better known as fracking, is widely used in Texas, the top crude producer in the United States.
“Denton, Texas is where hydraulic fracturing was invented,” said Bruce Baizel, Earthworks energy program director. “If this place in the heart of the oil and gas industry can’t live with fracking, then who can?”
Green groups said the result served as a wake-up call to the industry.
Groups like Frack Free Denton won even though they were outspent by a margin of 10 to one, according to organizers and local media reports.
The Texas Oil & Gas Association, the state’s energy lobby, on Wednesday quickly filed for an injunction.
“A ban on hydraulic fracturing is inconsistent with state law,” Thomas Phillips, a former head of the Supreme Court of Texas who now represents the trade group, said.
In a frack job, a mix of pressurized water, sand and chemicals is used to unlock hydrocarbons from rock. Operators claim it is safe but many environmental groups oppose the practice – calling it wasteful, polluting, dirty and noisy.
Fracking was pioneered at the Barnett shale formation where Denton is located. Exxon Mobil’s XTO unit honed its shale expertise in the natural gas-rich Barnett. Most of the crude output in Texas comes, however, from the growing Eagle Ford and Permian fields to the south and west.
The Denton referendum pitted oil and gas operators and mineral rights owners against residents who say their homes and lives are being encroached on by work that can be noisy, soak up scarce water supplies and overwhelm roads with heavy truck traffic.
“It’s essentially a ban on all drilling,” said Ed Ireland, executive director of the Barnett Shale Energy Education Council, a group aligned with producers. “No one would try to drill a well if they can’t frack it.”