Texas energy group asks court to halt fracking ban

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A North Texas city that sits atop a natural gas reserve is preparing for an extended court battle after voters made it the first in the state to ban further hydraulic fracturing — a fight that cities nationwide considering similar laws will likely be watching closely.

An industry group and the state's little-known but powerful General Land Office responded quickly to the measure Denton approved Tuesday night, seeking an injunction in District Court to stop it from being enforced.

Battling the fracking ban will be Texas Land Commissioner-elect George P. Bush's first fight. The founding partner of an energy and infrastructure consultancy, Bush promoted the economic benefits of hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, throughout his campaign.

The ban could have a domino effect in Texas, threatening an "energy renaissance" in shale resources accessed with the drilling technique, said David Porter, a commissioner on the Texas Railroad Commission, the state's oil and gas regulator.

Scores of cities in other states have considered similar bans over health and environmental concerns. Measures aimed at restricting fracking passed Tuesday in Athens, Ohio, and California's San Benito and Mendocino Counties, but failed elsewhere in those states.

The proposal in Denton, a university town about 40 miles north of Dallas, was a litmus test on whether any community in Texas — the nation's biggest oil and gas producer — could rebuff the industry and still thrive.

The courts must "give a prompt and authoritative answer" on whether Denton voters had the authority to ban fracking, Texas Oil and Gas Association attorney Tom Phillips, a former chief justice of the Texas Supreme Court, said Wednesday.

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