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      These States Are Telling Locals Not to Get in the Way of Fracking

      These States Are Telling Locals Not to Get in the Way of Fracking These States Are Telling Locals Not to Get in the Way of Fracking These States Are Telling Locals Not to Get in the Way of Fracking
      Photo by Jonathan Ernst/Reuters

      Environment

      These States Are Telling Locals Not to Get in the Way of Fracking

      By Laura Dattaro

      In no less than three states over the past week protestors, state officials, and fracking companies squared off over who gets to decide where oil and gas companies drill.

      In Denton, Texas, an oil-rich city that lies on the northern edge of Dallas-Fort Worth, Vantage Energy began fracking operations last week, even though the town passed a referendum in November that banned the oil and gas drilling technique within city limits. That's because, in May, the Texas legislature approved a prohibition on local fracking bans, opening the door to companies to resume drilling.

      Dozens of protesters have gathered outside the Vantage fracking site, with police arresting six of them over the past two days, according to local media reports.

      Ed Soph, a board member of the anti-fracking organization Denton Drilling Awareness Group, told VICE News that opposition to fracking runs deep. Fifty-eight percent of Denton voters supported the November ballot initiative.

      "The ban itself was a citizen's initiative and part of the democratic process and the state law is taking that freedom away from us," he said. "We want our freedom back, and that's what we're going to fight for."

      Oklahoma joined Texas on Friday in prohibiting local bans on fracking. Republican Governor Mary Fallin signed into law a bill stating that the Oklahoma Corporation Commission (OCC) has sole regulatory power over the state's oil and natural gas industry.

      "We need to let these experts do their jobs," Fallin said in a statement. "The alternative is to pursue a patchwork of regulations that, in some cases, could arbitrarily ban energy exploration and damage the state's largest industry, largest employers, and largest taxpayers."

      Oklahoma has become the most seismically active state in the continental United States. Magnitude 3 or higher earthquakes rattle the state at a rate roughly 600 times higher than before 2008, according to the Oklahoma Geological Survey, which attributes the rise to the proliferation of fracking. 

      With control solely in the hands of the OCC, environmentalists worry that agency will be unable to provide proper oversight of the industry.

      "One of the reasons they have not been attacking the earthquake issue as aggressively as they should is because they don't have the staff needed," Johnson Bridgewater, executive director of the Oklahoma Sierra Club, told VICE News. "By putting full regulatory authority under OCC and taking it away from local interests, we have concerns that they, by their own admission, don't have the budget needed to get into some of these programs."

      While Oklahoma joined Texas in prohibiting local fracking bans, Maryland moved in the opposite direction. It becomes the second state to outright prohibit the technique anywhere in the state, joining New York, whose governor, Andrew Cuomo, pledged to prohibit fracking late last year.

      Erin Montgomery, press secretary for Republican Governor Larry Hogan told VICE News that he continues to support "safe and responsible" energy production in the western part of the state, which sits atop the natural gas-rich Marcellus Shale play.

      "The Governor has directed the Maryland Department of the Environment to continue its steady progress in the area through the development of balanced and protective regulations based on sound scientific input," Montgomery said.

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      Follow Laura Dattaro on Twitter: @ldattaro

      Topics: environment, americas, oil, petroleum, natural gas, fracking, texas, denton, oklahoma, earthquakes, sierra club, maryland

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