My forthcoming feature-length documentary, Don’t Frack With Denton tells the empowering story of how my hometown became the first city in Texas to ban the drilling technique of hydraulic fracturing (fracking) deep in the heart of the oil and gas empire. I’ve already released the opening chapter of this ongoing story online.
The opening chapter, which premiered at the University of North Texas this May, showcases how my tenacious Texas town of Denton managed to upstage the oil and gas industry with the power of music and community organizing, winning a landslide electoral victory last November in which 59 percent of Dentonites voted to ban fracking within city limits.
The first half of the film, a 20-minute primer, introduces the grassroots activists who managed to use sock puppets and ukulele’s to defeat the industry’s millions in purchased advertising. The activists’ victory is historic, as the town of Denton sits on the very same underground shale formation where the technique of fracking was pioneered in the 1990s, and in a region where the oil and gas industry holds unrivaled political and economic power.
That’s why the fight to defend Texas’ first fracking ban isn’t over. After residents worked for more than five years to deliver an unparalleled blow to oil and gas interests, Dentonites continue to fight an uphill battle against a predictable backlash from conservative lawmakers and the oil and gas industry.
Since the ban passed last fall, state lawmakers connected to the industry and to the conservative American Legislative Exchange Council have introduced a number of bills aimed at undermining local democracy, ostensibly to prevent other cities from following Denton’s lead.
Texas legislators, in lock-step with the oil and gas industry despite the continued protests of their own constituents, approved legislation which makes Denton’s fracking ban unenforceable and preempts local communities’ ability to regulate oil and gas operations within their city limits.
House Bill 40, which was signed into law this spring by Texas Gov. Greg Abbott, eviscerates more than 150 years of Texas’ proudly-held tradition of local control, preempting municipalities’ authority to regulate oil and gas industry operations within city limits.
Without local control, municipalities can no longer regulate oil and gas operations directly, and are forced to rely on state regulators such as the Texas Railroad Commission – a captured agency which stood by as oil and gas companies erected drilling rigs as close as 200-feet from homes in Denton.
My co-writer and producer Candice Bernd and I, are just beginning production on the second phase of the Don’t Frack With Denton project, which follows Denton city officials and grassroots activists as they fight to defend their community at the Texas Capitol in Austin, and in their own backyards.
The second phase of the project will conclude with the production of a feature-length film examining this movement’s evolving strategies and challenges on the ground in Denton as well as the systemic failure of our democratic institutions in Texas.