(Jon Cassidy, Watchdog.org) A group supported by four Texas energy producers is striking back at out-of-state environmentalist groups, arguing that the organizations have been hiding their extreme policy goals behind mild rhetoric.
The environmental groups, one of which had temporary success in passing a fracking ban in Denton in 2014, are hiding anti-oil and gas views behind temperate phrases such as “best practices” and “local control,” argues North Texans for Natural Gas in a report published Tuesday.
The group takes aim in particular at the local activities of Earthworks, the Sierra Club, and Environment Texas, all of which are supported by national organizations backed by institutional donors.
In 2014, Denton – with funding provided by Earthworks – passed an anti-fracking measure that was overruled the following year by the state Legislature, which clarified that the state and not local authorities had control over mineral rights.
That has prompted environmental groups to change their tactics, North Texans for Natural Gas says. Instead of fighting a frontal battle for drilling and fracking bans, the groups are pushing for more moderate-sounding policies.
“Earthworks’ emphasis on ‘better enforcement’ and ‘model regulations’ belies an agenda that is actually aimed at stopping oil and natural gas development,” the report argues. “In recent years, the group has taken a decidedly more aggressive tone against fracking, both in Texas and nationwide.”
Despite the softer policy tone, Earthworks’ lead organizer in Texas has still compared fracking to “sexual assault” and “domestic terrorism.”
Earthworks’ policy agenda includes federal legislation that would shift regulatory authority over fracking from states to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.
Cities that embrace Earthworks’ agenda could end up paying heavily in litigation, the report warns.
Even after the Legislature clarified fracking authority, Denton’s ban remained in place, so the lawsuits continues.
“In June 2015, Earthworks learned that it may have to pay attorneys’ fees, and the group filed a motion to exit the case,” the study says. “Upon learning the news, local residents expressed frustration that Earthworks had promised to stand alongside the city and defray legal costs but then sought to exit the suit the minute the group discovered that it would actually have to pay some of the fees.”
The anti-fracking campaign ultimately cost Denton taxpayers more than $1 million, according to the report.
The group also takes aim at Environment Texas, which has gotten op-eds into major papers across the state calling for environmental “best practices” for drilling on University of Texas’ massive landholdings.
The group’s real views are rather more extreme, the study contends.
“For example, Environment Texas has asserted that ‘no plausible system of regulation appears likely to address the scale and severity of fracking’s impacts.’ In its University Lands report, Environment Texas stated flatly: ‘Fracking should not occur anywhere.’”
The report highlights one regulatory technique that is sure to become more common – setback requirements.
In several cities, innocuous-sounding requirements to locate wells 1,500 feet or more from buildings has driven oil and gas production out of town, according to the report.