Even before voters in Denton passed a measure that made their city the first in the state to ban fracking, state lawmakers were talking about filing legislation to block the ban. On Monday, more than four months after the Denton vote, a House committee discussed two bills that would derail local efforts to curb fracking. House Bill 40 would generally block cities from regulating oil and gas activity, and House Bill 539 would make cities and municipalities that do ban fracking pay for it—literally.
Earlier this month, the residents of Denton, Texas—located on one of the country’s largest natural gas reserves and home to some 275 gas wells—voted to ban fracking. The ban was a first for a city in Texas, where fracking has enabled an oil and gas boom; the state now accounts for one-third of the United States’ natural gas production. In this period of boom and blowback, the state agencies that regulate the oil and gas industry here are perhaps more important than ever—and, according to frustrated reporters, increasingly impenetrable.
In the latest iteration of a Texas public official denying the negative effects of harmful pollutants on people and the environment, the state’s chief toxicologist, Dr. Michael Honeycutt, said that since people spend most of their time indoors there’s no reason to be concerned about dangerous levels of ozone, a pollutant that contributes to the formation of smog.