Top Texas Regulator: Could Russia Be Behind City's Proposed Fracking Ban?

In this Oct. 22, 2013 photo, Railroad Commission Chairman Barry Smitherman stands for a portrait in front of the state Capito
In this Oct. 22, 2013 photo, Railroad Commission Chairman Barry Smitherman stands for a portrait in front of the state Capitol in Austin, Texas. Smitherman is one of three top Republicans vying for their party's nomination for attorney general in primary elections in March, but says he's always been deeply conservative and has not attempted to move to his right in order to win the race. (AP Photo/Will Weissert)

The head of the Texas Railroad Commission, the agency that regulates oil and gas operations in the state, is fighting to stop a proposed ban on fracking in one local city, and he's worried it's not the locals who support it. Chairman Barry Smitherman recently insinuated that "out of state sources," like the Russians, may be playing in a local effort to ban fracking.

The city of Denton, Texas, has a temporary prohibition on hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, in place through September. Groups like the Denton Drilling Awareness Group and Earthworks have been calling for a permanent ban on the process, and have gathered 1,900 signatures from residents to get a vote on their measure. They faced a setback on Wednesday morning when the city council voted down a proposal to extend the ban, but the matter is slated to go before voters on the public ballot this November.

Smitherman, however, worries that it's not actually the citizens of Denton who want to stop fracking, but "out of state sources." State Impact Texas reports that Smitherman wrote a letter to Denton's mayor and city council members, insinuating that it might be the Russians or some other foreign player:

Recently, Anders Fogh Rasmussen, the secretary general of NATO, accused Russia of secretly working with environmental groups in Europe to ban hydraulic fracturing so as to maintain Europe's current dependence upon energy imports from Moscow. It would therefore appear that not all efforts to ban hydraulic fracturing are grounded in environmental concerns. With this in mind, I trust that you all will determine whether funding and manpower behind this effort to ban hydraulic fracturing in Denton is coming from out of state sources or from those who would profit from the imposition of such a ban.

Fogh Rasmussen did make allegations to that effect last month regarding bans in Europe. But he didn't mention Texas.

Smitherman did not immediately respond to an email requesting clarification of the statement in his letter.

Smitherman was a candidate for state attorney general but lost in the primary earlier this year. He has also questioned whether climate change is really a problem, and touted his numerous lawsuits against the Environmental Protection Agency.

(Hat tip to the Texas Observer for first noting the letter.)



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