By Mark Plummer, CEO of Chestnut Exploration & Production

This past Tuesday, Denton, Texas residents voted to become the first Texas city to ban hydraulic fracturing. In fact, 59% of Denton voters voted for the ban, which means those who support the ban won a decisive victory. Two questions loom: 1. What caused an overwhelming majority of Denton voters to support the ban? and 2. What happens next?

Fracking has been around for decades as a production technique. Those who opposed the ban characterized it as derived from junk science and irrational fears. While there is considerable misinformation about fracking in the market place of ideas, other issues likely accounted for the large margin by which the ban passed.

At least some of the oil companies that drilled the 272 active wells in Denton seemingly turned a deaf ear to community concerns about traffic, well location and other issues not specifically related to fracking. Cathy McMullen, a nurse who headed an anti-fracking group and got the issue on the ballot said, “It [the ban] says that industry can’t come in and do whatever they want to do to people. They can’t drill a well 300 feet from a park anymore.”

Clearly then, a lesson oil companies should take from Denton’s ban is to do a better job listening to residents’ concerns. In addition, urban drilling (fracking or otherwise) raises different issues than those encountered in sparsely populated areas. Oil companies would do well to take McMullen’s words to heart: “If you want to prevent more bans, … do yourselves a favor and listen to concerned citizens. Because if you don’t you may wind up reaping what you’ve sown.”

In addition to being inconsiderate neighbors, at least one oil company that operated in Denton created controversy and concerns related to toxic exposure due to how they handled chemicals at the surface. These issues have nothing to do with fracking per se, rather, they relate to the failure to follow safety guidelines and regulations for safe handling of hazardous materials. Obviously, it’s an oil-producing company’s responsibility to follow regulations and procedures that protect the public. The failure to do so in Denton gave momentum to the anti-fracking movement. As stated in a previous blog post related to the Denton fracking ban, Chestnut goes to great lengths to comply with safety regulations, and to protect the community, the environment, and its neighbors.

Predictably, voters will not have the last word on the fracking ban as various interested parties (e.g., mineral rights owners, permit holders, and oil companies, among others) will likely file litigation in an attempt to overturn (at least in part) the ban. In Texas, the Railroad Commission has jurisdiction over oil and gas drilling. Litigants who seek to overturn the ban will likely argue a city (Denton in this case) does not have the authority to ban drilling the Texas Railroad Commission previously approved. In addition, the Fifth Amendment to the United States Constitution prohibits the government from taking private property without just compensation. We can expect litigants who own mineral rights to argue the fracking ban constitutes a “taking” without just compensation.

Stay tuned to see how the Denton, Texas fracking ban resolves itself.

Chestnut Exploration’s owner and CEO Mark Plummer is a licensed engineer and entrepreneur with expertise in, among other areas, oilfield redevelopment and fracking. This blog post was originally posted by Plummer on LinkedIn.