The Politics of Fracking Campaigns

June 1, 2015

Véronique Bourg-Meyer

by guest author Véronique Bourg-Meyer, FES 2016
If you have been paying attention to the news this past week, and have an interest in domestic energy policy, you will probably have heard: In Texas, municipal fracking bans are now prohibited. On May 18, 2015, Republican Governor Greg Abbott signed into law House Bill 40, which his office says will ensure that Texas landowners are protected against “the heavy hand of local regulation.” While not entirely surprising, HB 40 is a strange message to Texas residents. It is an incursion of the state government into local affairs, an overreach that Gov. Abbot is generally all too quick to condemn when the federal government inserts itself into Texan affairs, even when it results from an established congressional mandate.
HB 40 is the Texas legislature’s response to the town of Denton imposing a ban on hydraulic fracturing within city limits last year. 
Local bans on fracking have been effective in other parts of the country. In New York for example, several towns have sought to exclude fracking with land use ordinances. This local approach was not only validated by New York’s highest court in 2014, but also played an important role in the campaign that led to the announcement of a statewide fracking ban in December.
Local bans were, however, far from the only strategy that environmental groups and resident activists employed during their seven-year campaign. Some groups pushed for a statewide ban, others for very stringent regulations. Ultimately, cooperation, determination, and maybe a bit of luck transformed the campaign into a powerful grassroots movement. In a paper written for a class on understanding environmental campaigns and policymaking at the Yale School of Forestry and Environmental Studies, I explored the strategies and tactics deployed by campaigners that made the campaign a success. You can read the paper here to understand more of the politics around this effort. Happy reading.
Note: Since I wrote my paper in April, the New York Department of Environmental Conservation issued the final Supplemental Generic Environmental Impact Statement, which can be found here. The Findings Statement under New York’s State Environmental Quality Review Act remains to be issued.