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It's David vs. Two Goliaths in Texas Fracking Fight

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Man holds a sign urging people to vote for the Denton frackng ban on Election Day, Nov. 4, 2014.Credit: Michael Leza

"Don't mess with Texas," says the advertising slogan that has grown into a defiant unofficial state motto.

After a recent historic vote to ban fracking in the college town of Denton-and industry's lightning-fast response-the new refrain might read: "Don't Mess With Big Oil and Gas."

That's the bottom line for business and legal experts who surveyed the landscape after 59 percent of Denton's voters approved the ban.

Barely 13 hours after the polls closed on Nov. 4, oil and gas lawyers were in court, suing the town.

So, for that matter, was the state of Texas, where production of oil and gas reached $109 billion last year.

The overwhelming vote made Denton the first city to ban fracking in Texas, a state whose history, economy and culture are inextricably linked to oil.

The industry's swift reaction offers perhaps cautionary national implications for other cities seeking to follow Denton, the home of North Texas State University, just north of Dallas.

"This is a shot across the bow of other cities that might be thinking of enacting similar kinds of legislation," said Thomas McGarity, a University of Texas law school professor who specializes in environmental and administrative law.

"If you try to do something like this you're going to get sued, too," McGarity said.

The ordinance, championed by residents fed up with the industry, outlaws hydraulic fracturing, or fracking-in which sand, water and chemicals are pumped underground at high pressure to shatter the shale rock and release trapped oil and gas.

The ban is meant to address concerns about public safety and health issues associated with fracking: dangers associated with the venting of gas and disposal of toxic waste, as well as air pollution and water contamination.