Dallas may be in the heart of oil country, but it appears that even those from hardcore oil money don’t want to be able to set their drinking water on fire; the city council voted last week to ban fracking within “1,500 feet of a home, school, church, or well.” Opponents promptly complained that this effectively banned fracking within the entire city. Well, yes. That was kind of the point.
Dallas Cothrum, a representative of an oil and gas company, outlined the “problem” in a statement to the media: “You just can’t drill under these conditions. It’d require more than 250-acres of property and in an urban area it’s just not possible.” The decision in Dallas (the city, not the man) follows in the footsteps of a number of U.S. cities and counties that either have passed or are strongly considering fracking bans within their limits for the health and safety of residents, in response to mounting evidence that fracking is hazardous for human health. That marks a rapid reversal of the very recent warning that fracking was likely to pop up more and more in urban and suburban areas.
What’s happening here? It would appear that a growing tide of sentiment against fracking is finally having a political effect, as communities band together to oppose fracking, promote bans and restrictions on oil and gas restrictions, and fight oil companies in their backyards. Part of this may be attributable to the infamous NIMBY (not in my backyard) phenomenon, where people tend to be more up in arms about things that harm them directly; fracking isn’t just potentially hazardous, it’s also unsightly, noisy and intrusive.
But it would be a mistake to blame this entirely on self-interested residents. People are clearly concerned about studies on fracking and its relationship to water quality, earthquakes and other environmental issues. The case for caring about fracking, and taking action about it, is growing, and thus, it’s possible to see a city council in the heart of Texas taking steps to protect its citizens from a potential threat, despite the huge pressures of the oil and gas industry. Dallas residents know that the bulk of the wealth and power in their city comes from oil and gas, with fracking a natural extension of the earlier industry thanks to the strain on existing reserves and the need to look deeper for more extraction options.
Clearly, those residents aren’t ready to put their lives at risk for oil companies, even if it potentially means sacrificing their own economy. Oil companies threaten that not being able to drill in urban areas will lead to declines in profits, job losses and resource scarcity, but whether or not these claims are true, residents aren’t ready to take chances with their health and that of their children.
The new restrictions on fracking, if they hold, will make Dallas one among a growing list of no fracking zones in the United States, and the very fact that it’s Dallas may make other cities bold when it comes to following suit. That makes this a particularly strong victory for groups concerned about the health and safety risks of fracking.
Photo credit: David Herrera.
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