“Don’t Frack With Denton”

A Story of Resistance Deep in the Heart of the Oil and Gas Empire

With my partner, Garrett Graham, I am writing/producing our forthcoming feature-length documentary, Don’t Frack With Denton, which tells the empowering story of how the hometown that we love became the first city in Texas to ban the controversial drilling technique of hydraulic fracturing (fracking) deep in the heart of the oil and gas empire — and why some residents went to jail to defend it.

Don't Frack With Denton Movie Poster

(Poster image: Jared Rodriguez)

We’re long-time Dentonites ourselves, and we’re producing this independent documentary to showcase how a band of tenacious activists here managed to upstage the oil and gas industry with the power of music and community organizing. Armed with sock puppets and ukulele’s, the activists were able to defeat the oil and gas industry’s millions in purchased advertising, winning a landslide electoral victory in November of 2014 in which 59 percent of Dentonites voted to ban fracking within city limits.

But their victory proved to be a major threat to the industry, as Denton sits on the very same underground shale formation where a fracking technique that made the practice profitable was pioneered in the 1990s — a region where the industry holds unrivaled political and economic power. The reaction was swift.

Since the ban passed in the fall of 2014, Texas legislators connected to the industry interests and to the conservative American Legislative Exchange Council passed legislation making Denton’s fracking ban unenforceable and preempting more than 300 other Texas cities’ authority to ban fracking within their borders.

Signed into law in the spring of 2015, House Bill 40 eviscerated more than 150 years of Texas’ proudly-held tradition of local control by severely limiting the type of regulation local governments can impose on oil and gas operations within their limits so that such regulations are found to be “commercially reasonable” to the industry.

Our film offers an intimate portrait of how one community has dealt with the kinds of challenges that confront all movements for environmental and social justice, including questions like:

  • What does it take to bring a community together to fight for change?
  • How much are we willing to demand and how far are we willing to go?
  • When should we break the law in order to fight for more just laws?
  • What do we do when the available political system completely fails us?
  • Should we be fighting to reform that system or to replace it?
  • Is it better to fight for one goal at a time or should we be connecting our movements with larger struggles that we may never see concluded?

Why It Matters:

Ever since the fracking boom and scientifically dubious promises that natural gas is a “bridge fuel” to a greener future, fracking has swept the nation and spread around the globe faster than state regulators and concerned scientists can study it. It has since become a flashpoint in the global debate around anthropocentric climate disruption and our energy future.

Our documentary takes you inside this movement to witness fundamental questions about how ordinary people can change the world — but not without putting up one hell of a fight. Their triumphs and setbacks, and their dedication and disillusionment, offer vital lessons for any movement that wants to kick the polluters out of town and protect their friends, family and environmental future.

In many ways, this project builds directly on our previous feature-length documentary, Blockadia Rising: Voices of the Tar Sands Blockade, about another Texas-based struggle with global consequences. The film features interviews with the activists who stood in the way of the southern leg of the controversial Keystone XL tar sands pipeline running through Texas and Oklahoma. Both documentaries connect regional battles over democratic disenfranchisement and pollution with global issues like climate disruption and how many seemingly unrelated movements for justice and sustainability are, in reality, ultimately connected.

Check out our 20-minute preview of Don’t Frack With Denton which covers events leading up to the passage of House Bill 40, and ends on quite an emotional cliff-hanger. You’ll have to see the finished, feature-length documentary to see how civil disobedience enters into the story and the movement evolves and regroups. We plan to release the feature-length film in 2017.

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