Denton Drilling Awareness Group and Earthworks File Motion to Intervene in Defense of Denton Fracking Ban

Environmental Groups File Motion to Intervene in Defense of Denton Fracking Ban by Steve Horn, December 4, 2014, Cross-Posted from DeSmogBlog
Just days after attorneys representing Denton, Texas submitted their initial responses to two legal complaints filed against Denton  — the first Texas city ever to ban hydraulic fracturing (“fracking”) — environmental groups have filed an intervention petition. That is, a formal request to enter the two lawsuits filed against the city after its citizens voted to ban fracking on election day.

Denton Drilling Awareness Group and Earthworks are leading the intervention charge, represented by attorneys from the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) and Earthjustice. The drilling awareness group runs the Frack Free Denton campaign. Those groups have joined up with attorneys representing Denton to fight lawsuits filed against the city by both the Texas Oil and Gas Association and the Texas General Land Commission.

Earthjustice attorney Deborah Goldberg, lawyer for  Dryden, New York — the first town in that state to ban fracking, which set a precedent allowing municipalities in the state to ban oil and gas development — filed as one of the requested intervenors. “The State of Texas has granted municipalities the right to oversee oil and gas operations. The people of Denton have exercised that right, and we intend to help preserve it,” said Goldberg in a press release. “When state and federal officials won’t stand up for the public, citizens must have the right to use local democracy to protect themselves.”

Though Denton has set aside a $4 million fund  to slug out the litigation, the outside legal help and financial aid from environmental groups will strengthen the public interest defense against the industry lawsuits. [Emphasis added]

National environmental groups want to join Denton fracking fight by Max Baker, December 4, 2014, Star Telegram
The Denton Drilling Awareness Group, a citizens group that fought to put the ban on the November ballot, and Earthworks, a national nonprofit organization based in Washington, D.C., filed a petition in court asking to be named as defendants and intervenors so they can help provide a “vigorous defense of the legality and enforceability of the ordinance.”

Hours after the ban was overwhelmingly approved by voters on Nov. 4, the Texas Oil and Gas Association, along with the Texas General Land Office, filed lawsuits challenging the ban’s constitutionality and accused it of disrupting the state regulatory framework.

In addition to attorneys from a Richardson law firm that worked on local drilling ordinances, Denton Drilling Awareness Group and Earthworks are being represented by lawyers from Earthjustice and the Natural Resources Defense Council.

Cathy McMullen, the leader of the grassroots group that collected nearly 2,000 signatures and petitioned to get the ban on the ballot, said they’ve been talking for some time to Earthworks and others about mounting a legal defense if the ban was approved by voters.

“This is what they do,” McMullen said. “I’m proud to have their help.”

Ultimately, a Denton civil court judge will decide whether the two groups can join the litigation. The other parties involved in the litigation can protest their involvement, but the city of Denton has said it will not block them from joining their legal defense team. “We are happy to work with them and are open to their request to become an intervenor. We won’t oppose it,” said Lindsey Baker, a spokeswoman for the city.

Attorneys for the oil and gas association could not be reached for comment Thursday afternoon.

McMullen said her group is paying for the legal services of Brown & Hofmeister, the Richardson law firm, but that Earthjustice and the Natural Resources Defense Council are working for free. … Bringing in the national environmental groups definitely raises the profile of the Denton ban.

“Denton has become a symbol” since Texas is a state where the oil and gas industry usually rules supreme, said Jim Bradbury, a Fort Worth environmental lawyer. …  An oil and gas industry spokesman was quick to point out that this is what it always said the election was about — banning drilling across the country. “That is where they focused their attention and that was their plan all along. They needed a Texas city to ban drilling, then they can take that model all over the country,” said Ed Ireland, executive director of the Barnett Shale Energy Education Council, an industry-sponsored group. [Emphasis added]

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