Some West Texas residents are starting to put pressure on local officials to keep hydraulic fracturing out of the Big Bend region.
Fracking is of course widespread in the Midland-Odessa region, but there are active gas leases in counties further south toward the border, and some are worried the industry might be edging ever-closer to Big Bend National Park.
Fracking opponents gathered alongside the Sierra Club at a recent city council meeting in Alpine, where they presented information on the extraction method’s effect on health, water and safety, and called on city officials to lead the way in keeping fracking out of the region.
Local resident Jan Woodward is among others hoping the council will take up an ordinance specifically banning fracking in Alpine.
“I would love for you all to be the forward-thinkers that take this information to other small towns and meetings,” she told council members. “We don’t want our whole lifestyle to change in Alpine, Texas.”
The push for a fracking ban in Alpine mirrors similar efforts across Colorado and one in North Texas, and it’s part of a broader, still-murky legal question over whether or not local governments even have the right to place their own rules on energy development.
As it stands, even if the ban moves forward, it would be mostly a symbolic gesture. The Railroad Commission of Texas regulates the oil and gas industry, so counties and cities can’t stop landowners from leasing out their property.
But the State of New York just ruled communities in its borders can set their own land use rules, potentially paving the way for more fracking challenges across the country.
Still, Texans are known for their zealous support of private property rights, and some, like Alpine resident Howdy Fowler, say it’s necessarily about whether or not fracking is safe.
“I’m not for or against fracking,” Fowler says. “What I know about fracking you could put in a thimble, but when people start telling you what you can and can’t do with your own property, you’re treading on thin ice.”
Lorne Matalon contributed reporting.