Denton, a small Texas town you probably hadn’t heard of before yesterday, just voted in favor of a referendum to ban fracking. Green groups are busy making hay out of that result because, as Reuters reports, Denton resides in the Barnett shale formation, where fracking as we know it today was invented:
Exxon Mobil’s XTO unit honed its shale expertise in the natural gas-rich Barnett. Exxon’s headquarters are a short drive away in Irving, though most of the crude output in Texas comes from the growing Eagle Ford and Permian fields to the south and west. […]“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?”
Environmentalists are already spinning this as a rebuke of the fracking industry from within, from a town in a state where the fracking bulls outnumber the bears. That perspective misses the mark.Denton residents voted to ban fracking for a number of eminently understandable reasons: residents grew weary of high-volume truck traffic on their roads, of the noise the industry brought, of the depressive effect fracking was having on property values (at least, those properties not sitting atop oil and gas deposits). By rejecting the industry, the community demonstrated one of the most important components of the American shale revolution, and in so doing illustrated why other countries have had such difficulty in replicating the U.S. boom.In the U.S., property owners are afforded mineral rights; that is, if you own the land, you also own what’s underneath. We may take that for granted, but globally, it’s a rarity. In places like the UK, for instance, which is chomping at the bit to get at its own sizable shale reserves, communities are up in arms over what they see as a forcible intrusion on their ways of life. Here in the U.S., property owners can choose to sell to drillers or not, and are compensated for their trouble. That’s a good thing.Of course, as Denton showed, while some property owners can be compensated for allowing drilling on their land, the costs of the fracking boom—the noise, the effect on the local water supply, the trucks, etc.—are more widespread. It’s a thorny issue, to say the least (read Michael Levi’s book The Power Surge if you haven’t already—it addresses this problem in much more detail), and it’s one that communities will have to work through on a case by case basis. But the Denton fracking ban isn’t a symptom of some malaise for the industry, but rather an illustration of one of its strengths in the U.S.