From the top of Houston’s downtown skyscrapers on a clear day, you can see straight out to the refineries that surround the Houston Ship Channel. On a not-so-clear day, you can see the brown haze of pollution that hangs over our city.
Houstonians know well the jobs, energy and wealth that come from our oil and gas industry, and we also know that it must be balanced against the dangers of pollution. That balance is easy to make when you live in a city built on the bounty of oil and gas. When your only perspective is a hydraulic fracturing well across the street, the balance is tougher to strike.
So while the recent debate over banning fracturing in the North Texas city of Denton is a confusing sight to our Houston eyes, it is also understandable. With gas wells within spitting distance of residential areas, Denton has become a hotbed of conflict over fracking, and citizens recently collected enough signatures to force a November vote to prohibit any future wells.
The topic was taken up by their city council, hearing testimony about rising asthma rates, polluted water and an overall desire to control what happens in one’s own city. Hyperbole often rises to the top in these fracturing arguments, but it’s hard to deny that oil and gas companies have refused to follow the drilling regulations that Denton laid out. A mandatory 1,200-foot buffer between oil wells and homes, schools, parks and hospitals was supposed to prevent this sort of conflict in the first place, but companies simply drilled wells without permission. Pushed to the edge, no wonder Dentonites are trying to shut down fracturing altogether. This is what happens when folks are treated like a commodity instead of a community.
Voters should reject the hydraulic fracturing ban and seek a compromise solution. Too much good comes from fracturing, but oil companies need to be an honest, trustworthy partner. This isn’t the sort of corporate stewardship that we’ve come to appreciate in Houston.