When the citizens of Denton, Texas voted to keep fracking sites away from their homes and schools, industry cronies exploited our corrupt political system to strip the people of their right to decide what happens in their own backyards.

Today on Follow the Money, we take a look at exactly how it happened:

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Note: all sources are linked at the bottom of this page 

Residents of Denton, TX voted to ban drilling sites in their backyards

Last November, the people of Denton, Texas voted to ban a natural gas extraction process known as hydraulic fracturing, or “fracking,” in their city. Despite being outspent 10-1 by the oil and gas industry in the month leading up to the vote, the people of Denton passed the state’s first local fracking ban with a citizen-led referendum.

It’s not surprising that Denton citizens didn’t want any more fracking sites in their city: residents have been complaining about noise, bright lights, and toxic fumes spewing into the air from dozens of drilling sites — some as close as 200 feet from their homes.

We weren’t kidding about the “backyard” thing.
That’s when Texas Governor Greg Abbott signed a bill to override local fracking bans

After the Denton vote, Governor Greg Abbot signed a bill banning not just Denton, but all Texas towns from making their own decisions about oil and gas drilling. Why would a small government “conservative” use government power to take away local control and overrule the vote of the People?

Just follow the money.

Now, political cronies are calling the shots

House Bill 40, which was overwhelmingly passed by the Texas State Legislature, stripped cities and towns of their right to make decisions about oil and gas drilling in their communities. Instead, H.B. 40 put that power in the oily, oily hands of the Texas Railroad Commission (TRC) — a state agency that’s completely owned by the industry it’s supposed to regulate.

According to public records, TRC Chairwoman Christi Cradick received $828,828 in campaign contributions from the oil and gas industry. 8 of 10 of TRC Commissioner Ryan Sitton’s top contributors are CEOs or presidents of oil, gas, and well companies. And TRC Commissioner David Porter received his largest campaign contribution from the industry, which outspent his next largest contributor by 300%.

In fact, an investigation by local journalists and watchdogs found that the TRC receives 80% of its money from the industry it’s supposed to regulate.

Cronyism and corruption drowned out the will of the People

This story is about more than just fracking or the oil and gas industry — it’s a perfect example of what happens when big money combines with big government to strip citizens of their right to govern themselves.

Ironically, Greg Abbott ran his campaign for governor around protecting local communities from government overreach, and championed the idea of local control. One of his campaign videos was actually titled “Greg Abbott Will Return Local Control to Texas schools.”

Unless those schools are near a fracking well, apparently. “Unless those schools are near a fracking well.”

Apparently, the $9 million Greg Abbott received from the oil and gas industry throughout his career gave him cause to reconsider his position on the “local control” issue. And let’s not forget the Texas State Legislature: its members received more than $5 million in contributions from the oil and gas industry in the last election cycle alone.

It’s a bad situation when city leaders’ hands are tied. There seems to be an attitude that big state government knows better than the citizens of a city. I just think — conservative or liberal — that is something you don’t do in Texas.— Denton Councilman Kevin Roden
This level of corruption is outrageous — Help us spread the word

We’re already building a movement to pass Anti-Corruption Acts at the local, state, and federal level to make this kind of behavior illegal (the way it should be). However, we can’t do that unless we educate millions of Americans on our nation’s corruption problem — and the plan to fix it. Please, help us spread the word:

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Sources / Further Reading

  1. Video: Denton residents next door to fracking sites
  2. Video: Even more Denton residents next door to fracking sites
  3. Dallas Morning News: Industry spending big to keep fracking ban out of Denton
  4. Fox 4 KDFW: Initial story on Denton’s passage of fracking ban
  5. Yahoo Finance: Texas overturns local fracking bans
  6. News 8 WFAA: Investigative report of oil & gas financing of Texas Railroad Commission
  7. Fox 26 KIRV: Did Greg Abbott flip flop on local control?
  8. Natl. Institute on Money in State Politics: Career campaign finance data for Greg Abbott
  9. Austin American-Statesman: Oil & gas financing of Texas State Legislature