UPDATE (6/2/2015; 7:58am): The costs continue to escalate for the Denton fracking ban.
The Texas Tribune is reporting that the ban has “cost the city some $220,000 in legal fees alone.” That’s a far cry from Earthworks’ claim that it was “no more” than $150,000, and significantly more than what Frack Free Denton promised voters before the election. The legal costs alone make Denton’s fracking ban the most expensive in America.
A report from the Denton Record-Chronicle also suggests that Earthworks may be misleading the public about the cost, as a story from Peggy Heinkel-Wolfe acknowledged that the city has spent $920,000 on its drilling ordinance, which the city has said is a de facto fracking ban. That means Denton has spent well over $1 million in taxpayer money to defend a fracking ban that is illegal under Texas law.
—Original post, May 22, 2015—
A North Texas activist who worked closely with the campaign to ban fracking in Denton is claiming that the city has spent as much as $150,000 in legal fees to defend the ban, a figure that’s considerably higher than what local activists promised Denton residents the ban would cost. If confirmed, the figure could put Denton’s fracking ban among the most expensive in the country.
— TXsharon (@TXsharon) May 22, 2015
Sharon Wilson, a Texas organizer for the Washington, D.C.-based activist group Earthworks, tweeted that the city has spent “no more” than $150,000 defending its ban, with an additional $700,000 spent on the city’s drilling ordinance, which includes a 1,200 foot setback that many consider to be a de facto drilling ban.
A call to the City of Denton to confirm the figure was not immediately returned.
If Ms. Wilson’s claim is true, it would mean the cost is up to $112,000 more than what members of Frack Free Denton had claimed before the election. Earthworks — technically classified as a charity under 501(c)3 of the U.S. tax code — was the primary funding source for Frack Free Denton campaign, and its logo appears on Frack Free Denton’s homepage.
In a column published just weeks before Denton voters went to the polls, Frack Free Denton president Adam Briggle said it was fearmongering to suggest a fracking ban would result in significant legal costs. He estimated that it would cost between “$38,000 to $125,000,” based upon what other cities had paid to defend similar bans in court.
In a separate blog post, “Of Lawsuits and Lies,” Frack Free Denton published the same cost estimate as Briggle did in his op-ed.
Importantly, the $150,000 figure only applies to the fracking ban itself. Although lawsuits have been filed against the ban, it has not yet gone to court, which would entail additional costs and fees. The costs to other cities referenced by Frack Free Denton in their estimates included court fees, making Denton’s ban already costlier than the ban in Longmont, Colo., which Frack Free Denton referred to as the “higher figure.”
But Denton’s drilling ordinance also includes one of the largest setbacks in the Barnett Shale region. Last year, Denton City Councilman Kevin Roden admitted that Denton’s 1,200 foot setback has “more or less resulted in a de facto ban on new fracking operations in the core of the city.” Wilson says the ordinance has cost the city an additional $700,000.
All told, that means Denton has spent $850,000 in taxpayer money to defend local policies that effectively ban drilling, or nearly seven times what Frack Free Denton claimed a fracking ban would cost the city.
The cost revelation comes in the wake of a new video, released by North Texans for Natural Gas, showing Denton City Attorney Anita Burgess explaining that residents may have voted differently had the full cost of the ban been known.
During a Texas House Energy Resources committee hearing in March, Burgess told Rep. Phil King that if the projected cost of the ban had been made public, it would have had a “significant chilling effect” on the election outcome. She added that it would be “fair” to assume that the cost numbers could have changed voters’ minds before they went to the polls.