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Energy companies, environmentalists fund Denton fracking fight

David Minton/Denton Record-Chronicle
Both sides of the debate have deluged Denton with direct mail pieces, door hangers and fliers.

AUSTIN — The battle over Denton’s proposed ban on hydraulic fracturing is the latest showdown between environmentalists and oil and gas companies.

The companies have been pumping big money into the campaign against the November ballot measure, collecting five times as much as the group that called for the measure. According to the latest reports filed with the state, more than half of the donations to the ban-supporting group came as in-kind contributions from Earthworks, an environmental group based in Washington.

An Earthworks spokesman said that the money used for the contributions was raised through an online fundraiser and that nearly all of it came from Denton residents.

But that didn’t keep Denton Taxpayers for a Strong Economy from highlighting the donations.

“According to early reports, over 60 percent of the pro-ban group’s funding is coming from extreme liberal fringe groups out of Washington, D.C.,” Bobby Jones, the group’s treasurer, said in a written statement.

Pass the Ban treasurer Ed Soph scoffed at the characterization, adding that the group is nonpartisan and that “more than 90 percent of the donations came from local residents.”

“If they want to call us radicals, then they’re out of touch with what people are really concerned about,” Soph said.

In Denton, an uptick in drilling near homes and concerns over public safety prompted some residents to call for a citywide ban on fracking — a process that involves blasting water and chemicals deep into the earth to extract oil and gas. In July, the City Council placed the ban proposal on the November ballot for voters to decide.

Denton would be the first city in Texas, the top oil- and gas-producing state, to have such a policy.

According to finance reports, Denton Taxpayers for a Strong Economy, the leading group opposed to the ban, raised more than $230,000 from July through most of September. The group received $75,000 each from Devon Energy, an Oklahoma-based oil and gas operator; EnerVest Operating, a Houston-based energy company; and XTO, an oil and gas operator in Fort Worth.

Seven individuals donated a total of $1,060, far less than 1 percent of the total.

Jones, a Denton resident, said that the oil and gas companies donating to the campaign were all taxpayers, so the group should be considered a grass-roots organization.

“These operators are paying their tax dollars to the city of Denton,” he said. “Earthworks isn’t paying any taxes to the city.”

Denton Taxpayers for a Strong Economy paid nearly $186,000 to the Eppstein Group, a Fort Worth-based public relations firm, for work on the campaign, leaving at least $45,000 to spend before the election. The campaign has included fliers, billboards and other messages.

Pass the Ban — also known as Frack Free Denton and the Denton Drilling Awareness Group — has received nearly $30,000 since July 1 in in-kind contributions from Earthworks for items such as billboards, T-shirts and mailers.

The rest of its total, about $21,000, came from 50 individuals — the majority of whom listed residences in Denton or surrounding towns. Some donations came from other states, including New York, Illinois and Oregon.

The group has spent about $8,500, mostly for advertising.

With fewer resources, the group is relying on local volunteers. Soph said about 100 people will be out knocking on doors, and the group will purchase newspaper ads and send out fliers.

Follow Marissa Barnett on Twitter at @marissambarnett.


Major contributions to the main groups working for and against a ban on fracking in Denton:


Earthworks: $12,867 in mailers, $6,744 in billboards, $5,775 in yard signs, $1,500 in Web design, $1,232 in T-shirts, $971 in fliers, $564 in postcards

Rick and Misty Appling of Denton: $5,000

Phyllis Minton of Denton: $2,800

Patty Park of Denton: $971

Annette Wheldon of Denton: $500


Devon Energy: $75,000

XTO Energy: $75,000

EnerVest Operating: $75,000

Texas Alliance of Energy Producers: $5,000

Bobby Jones of Denton: $500

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