Public opposition to hydraulic fracturing – better known as “fracking” -- is nothing new. The 2010 documentary “Gasland” energized the nascent anti-fracking movement, with its depiction of tap water that caught on fire and once-healthy people who became chronically ill after fracking operations began nearby.
Back then, most of the opposition tended to be concentrated in Pennsylvania, where the most intensive shale gas drilling was taking place.
But as drilling operations for shale gas have spread across the country, so have movements to stop them.
Fracking began in the Marcellus Shale, which stretches from West Virginia, through Ohio and Pennsylvania to New York, as well as in the Barnett and Haynesville Shales in Texas and Louisiana. But it has since spread to Ohio, North Dakota, Montana, and Colorado, in addition to other states.
To the oil and gas industry, the expansion is proof that America is living in an era of abundance and verging on the once-unthinkable “energy independence.”
According to data from the Energy Information Administration, natural gas production from the Northeast is expected to hit 115.2 billion cubic feet per day for the month of July, or 28 percent higher than a year ago. That’s enough to push the nation’s natural gas production to an all-time high.
And while some places have been more welcoming to the industry than others, most communities experience mixed effects when fracking moves in. In rural communities, some farmers have been able to pay down debt and even hold onto their multigenerational farms by allowing drillers on their land.
But in others, companies have strong armed landowners into giving up mineral rights against their will. Then there is the truck traffic, noise, and air and water pollution that opponents say cause environmental and health problems.
That’s why it’s no surprise that groups opposed to fracking have sprung up in disparate parts of the country, as more shale is fracked.
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Those groups won a major victory with a recent New York court decision that dealt the industry a major blow; it ruled that local communities have the authority to enact their own bans on fracking. New York State happens to be under a temporary moratorium on fracking, but even if that’s lifted someday, the precedent has paved the way for many more civic bans in the state.
And not just in New York. The ruling has given hope to other towns and cities across the country considering enacting their own bans.
Perhaps the most surprising place that’s being considered is in the politically conservative, drilling-friendly state of Texas.
The city of Denton, which is located on top of the natural gas-rich Barnett Shale, is considering a fracking ban. Supporters of a ban decry the environmental effects of drilling, and the fact that some well pads have been set up as close as 100 yards from people’s homes.
Opponents of the ban argue that by outlawing fracking, voters will be killing the town’s golden goose.
The city council held an emotional public hearing July 15 on the proposed ban, and despite many tear-filled speeches by citizens addressing the council, the ban ultimately failed. Instead, the council decided to put the ban to a public vote this November.
Not all anti-fracking movements are gaining traction. Colorado has been at the forefront of the battle over fracking, and was expected to garner nationwide attention over a ballot initiative that would determine whether or not Colorado towns and cities could enact local fracking bans. However, the push for a referendum appears to have fallen short of the required signatures to force the issue to the ballot.
The rising tide of opposition across the country has led the American Petroleum Institute to issue new guidelines to oil and gas companies on how to better cooperate with local communities.
That won’t assuage opponents, most of whom don’t want to let the companies into their communities in the first place.
By Nick Cunningham of Oilprice.com