City leaders in Denton, Texas, this week refused to enact a ban on hydraulic fracture, but voters in that north Texas city could choose to outlaw the practice within city limits in November’s general election.
Other communities around the country have considered banning hydraulic fracturing, a process credited with sparking a renaissance in domestic oil and natural gas production. It involves blasting thousands of gallons of water, mixed with a small amount of sand and chemicals, into dense shale formations to release oil and natural gas.
Observers say such a ban is unlikely in Oklahoma, although state law gives municipalities wide latitude to regulate activities within their borders.
Tulsa has outlawed drilling in the city limits since the late 1920s, a move that effectively bans hydraulic fracturing as well since it has become the industry’s standard process for completing oil and natural gas wells.
Cities like Marlow and Guthrie have banned drilling as well, but officials have made exceptions at times.
A potential complication for any effort to ban hydraulic fracturing in Oklahoma is the split between surface owners and property owners, who have different interests. Property laws are different in states like New York, where communities have successfully banned hydraulic fracturing.
Oklahoma Independent Petroleum Association President Mike Terry said state residents understand the importance of oil and natural gas production, which has been a constant in Oklahoma’s history.
“In Oklahoma, those of us who live close to the wellhead have a better understanding of the oil and gas industry,” he said. “As oil and natural gas production moves into states that have traditionally seen little to no energy exploration, a lack of understanding about the drilling process and the industry as a whole leads to confusion and, in some cases, fear.”
Fear seems to be a factor for groups interested in halting hydraulic fracturing and the injection of wastewater that comes with oil and gas production.
Clean Energy Future OK has launched an online petition drive to ban injection wells in Oklahoma for a year in response to the drastic rise in earthquake activity in the state. Its petition had been signed by 602 people as of Thursday afternoon.
Another group, Stop Fracking Payne County, has cited similar concerns about injection wells, while questioning the environmental and health impacts of hydraulic fracturing.
“I believe there are laws in Oklahoma at this time not allowing us to ban fracking like other cities have done,” said Angela Spotts, the group's co-founder. “I am hopeful that maybe the home rule is an option.
“I am very concerned about how this is impacting people's health.”
Terry said people have nothing to fear from hydraulic fracturing.
“Hydraulic fracturing is a safe, proven process that is well-regulated at the state level by the Oklahoma Corporation Commission,” he said. “Hydraulic fracturing has been used in Oklahoma for the past 60 years, and its use is essential to the production of oil and natural gas in our state.”
Oklahoma Oil and Gas Association President Chad Warmington said a ban on hydraulic fracturing would be detrimental to Oklahoma.
“A ban on fracking would be extremely misguided and devastating to Oklahoma's economy,” he said. “It would effectively end oil and gas exploration and development in the state.”