Breaking: Citizens Arrested While Defending Denton, Texas Fracking Ban

Read time: 4 mins

Three members of the Denton Drilling Awareness Group were arrested when they refused to move away from the entrance to a fracking site where work began today.

Before arresting them, however, Sergeant Jenkins, a 30-year veteran of the Denton police department, thanked Adam Briggle, a professor at the University of North Texas, and Denton residents Niki Chochrek and Tara Linn Hunter for the work they had done. 

Sergeant Jenkins thanks Adam Briggle for his service to the community. ©2015 Julie Dermansky 

The three were charged with criminal trespass and released before noon. The arrests come a week after Texas Governor Greg Abbott signed legislation that prohibits cities and towns in Texas from banning fracking. 

In a prepared statement before his arrest, Briggle wrote:

“An act of civil disobedience requires you to distinguish just laws from unjust laws. I have read much about this and discussed Antigone, Thoreau, and Martin Luther King, Jr. with my students. But I have never acted until now, because never before has that distinction been so clear in my mind. A just law would give those exposed to the harms of fracking a meaningful voice. An unjust law would subordinate those voices to the dictates of the powerful and wealthy. HB 40 is an unjust law.”

Adam Briggle arrested for trespassing at a Vantage frack site. ©2015 Julie Dermansky

Tara Linn Hunter arrested for trespassing at a Vantage frack site. ©2015 Julie Dermansky

Niki Chochrek arrested for trespassing at a Vantage frack site.  ©2015 Julie Dermansky

Yesterday, before fracking within the city limits resumed, a group that supports the fracking ban, including Denton Councilpersons Kevin Roden and Keely Briggs, gathered at City Hall.

Rally in front of City Hall in support of the fracking ban. ©2015 Julie Dermansky

Briggle encouraged everyone to come to the June 2 city council meeting when there will be a vote on repealing the fracking ban. “It is not clear what the next move should be,” he told the group. Many at the Sunday rally want the Denton council to uphold the ban. 

Councilman Roden thinks repealing the ban is the city's best option. “Right now all we have is a very over-reactive legislature and their bad legislation,” he wrote.

His conclusion, he says, is based on legal reasoning: 

“Repealing the ban ordinance pulls the carpet out from under the industry and doesn’t give them the pleasure of getting an early legal assist on this issue. They want us to fight this all the way in court. It gives them what they want. I don’t want to keep giving the industry what they want. I want to continue to fight, but do so in a way that best prepares us for the strategic battles ahead.”

Councilwoman Keely Briggs isn't so sure. She thinks protecting the ban is the right thing to do, but plans to listen to everyone's ideas at the meeting. 

The City of Denton issued a statement that “the hydraulic fracturing ban has, in our opinion, been rendered unenforceable by the State of Texas in HB 40 such that we no longer have the authority to enforce the ban.”

However Keely said she believes that if the city chose to enforce the ban, it could have led to a cease and desist order against Vantage and stopped the company’s fracking operations for the time being.

Councilwoman Keely Briggs in front of City Hall. ©2015 Julie Dermansky

In response to the controversy, Colorado-based Vantage Energy released a statement last week:

“Vantage Energy is proud of the work we do and we have become known throughout the Barnett Shale as a respected, responsible operator. We work hard to be a good neighbor in the communities where we work and Denton is no exception. We appreciate the working relationship we’ve established with the city of Denton and look forward to operating in concert with the city going forward.”

Despite Vantage’s assurances that it’s a “responsible operator,” the company has recently had two incidents. In Denton, lightning caused an explosion at a drill site and in Arlington a well had a blow out, causing a voluntary neighborhood evacuation following what officials called a “very serious situation.”

Denton’s ban on fracking within city limits lasted only seven months. Fracking critics view the industry’s attempts at making a residents' initiative illegal as a desperate move. Democracy is under siege in Denton, local activists say, and the members of the Drilling Awareness Group plan to fight on.

Fracking underway at a Vantage fracking site in Denton. ©2015 Julie Dermansky

Rally to support the fracking ban at City Hall in Denton. ©2015 Julie Dermansky

Dog at the rally to support the fracking ban at City Hall in Denton. ©2015 Julie Dermansky

Supporters of the fracking ban line the street in front of City Hall in Denton. ©2015 Julie Dermansky

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