A motion to ban hydraulic fracturing in a North Texas city will head to a public vote in November after the city council voted down a petition that would have been the first in the hydrocarbon-rich state to prohibit the controversial completion practice.
Council members in Denton, a city about 40 miles north-west of Dallas that sits atop the prolific Barnett gas shale, rejected the petition 5-2 following eight hours of public testimony, according to reports.
Opponents of fracking in the city collected about 1900 signatures, enough to force a vote on the council and to send the measure to the ballot in the event city leaders voted it down.
Organisers said the measure was a last resort after gas companies defied existing rules governing drilling setbacks and gas flaring.
Industry groups said such a ban would likely set off a spate of lawsuits and would deal a blow to Denton's economy.
Barry Smitherman, the chair of the regulatory Texas Railroad Commission, went a step further, raising the possibility that Russia was behind the efforts to ban fracking in Denton.
As first reported by the Texas Observer, Smitherman pointed out that Nato secretary general Anders Fogh Rasmussen had recently accused Russia of "secretly working with environmental groups in Europe to ban hydraulic fracturing so as to maintain Europe’s current dependence upon energy imports from Moscow".
"It would therefore appear that not all efforts to ban hydraulic fracturing are grounded in environmental concerns," Smitherman wrote in a letter to the city council.
"With this in mind, I trust that you all will determine whether funding and manpower behind this effort to ban hydraulic fracturing in Denton is coming from out of state sources or from those who would profit from the imposition of such a ban."
Smitherman's comments were widely mocked throughout the hearing, the Observer reported(hat tip StateImpact Texas).
The Barnett shale holds one of the largest gas deposits in the US. It was in the Barnett that George Mitchell fine-tuned the practice of combining horizontal drilling and hydraulic fracturing to unlock untold volumes of hydrocarbons across the US that had been previously inaccessible.
Denton city leaders in May imposed a temporary ban on new fracking permits. It is set to expire in September.
There are about 500 wells within Denton's jurisdiction, the city estimates.