(AP Photo/Michael Ainsworth)

Big Business as Usual: Fracking in the American Dream City

An Arlington environmentalist calls for courage at the local level despite state limitations.


As I write, the temperature outside is 91 degrees Fahrenheit, nowhere near the worst to be expected this summer. According to data from the Climate Impact Lab, there is now an average of 105 days at or above 90 degrees in Arlington, compared with 93 days within the same temperature range when I was born in 1991. This change in temperature is due in no small part to fracking, which has a ubiquitous presence in our North Texas city. As the climate continues to warm, our local government continues to expand oil and gas production—in a city where over a hundred wells already exist.

The issue of fracking is a common one at Arlington City Council meetings, where it continues to be approved despite public outcry and numerous health risks associated with extraction. Fracking is accelerating the climate crisis drastically. It is a significant producer of methane—a greenhouse gas more potent at trapping heat than carbon dioxide—which scientists say is responsible for 20-30 percent of all warming to date. In addition to fueling the climate crisis, fracking has been linked to a variety of health issues. According to a 2023 assessment, the air pollution from oil and gas extraction operations in 2016 was responsible for $77 billion in health impacts, which included: 410,000 asthma attacks; 2,200 new cases of childhood asthma; and 7,500 excess deaths. Beyond this national figure, a report from the environmental group Livable Arlington has documented fracking pollution at 85 local sites.

The group Physicians for Social Responsibility has investigated the issue in great depth and came to the following conclusion in a lengthy report: “Our examination uncovered no evidence that fracking can be practiced in a manner that does not threaten human health directly or without imperiling climate stability upon which human health depends.”

“It feels like no one’s got our back, no one’s in our corner.”

Despite this mounting public health crisis, the City of Arlington has chosen to do nothing to stymie the proliferation of fracking in our city. In fact, it continues to expand it. In a recent council meeting, permission was granted for TotalEnergies to produce five new wells at an existing site.

Our mayor, Jim Ross, speaking for the council as a whole, provided the reasoning behind the decision. He explained that the city had no choice but to approve the site because of 2015’s House Bill 40, which prohibits local governments from regulating the subsurface operations involved in oil and gas extraction. Ross and the rest of the city council seem to feel as though their hands are tied. Council member Barbara Odom-Wesley was recently quoted in the Fort Worth Report as saying, “We’ve done all that we can do, according to our attorney’s office.”

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The question then becomes, do they want to do more? If city officials disagree with a state law that forces them to accept fracking in their city, the least they could do is voice that disagreement publicly to bring attention to the issue. They could tell state representatives that HB 40 is poisoning their constituents and they won’t stand for it anymore.

The leverage the oil and gas industry has over our local government is immense, but it is not insurmountable. We at the Sunrise Movement—a nonprofit and activist organization fighting climate change—urge the council to take a stance that doesn’t defer responsibility or acquiesce to business interests but that holds them accountable for the damage inflicted on our communities.

The problems facing us today require more than a city council as intermediaries for business development. In response to the climate crisis, leaders have to look seriously at how their roles can be used to limit emissions and shore up infrastructure. The importance of local action in fighting the climate crisis was made clear in a recent Brookings Institution analysis, which stated that “Cities generate roughly 70% of global greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions.”

Bad laws should not be hidden behind but fought against. We urge city officials to do what they can now, despite the limitations of HB 40. Setbacks—meaning how far wells must be placed from protected areas like homes, schools, and hospitals—should be set at the absolute maximum allowed by state law; officials must embrace their personal autonomy and fight for their constituents. Other cities around the country have taken bold steps to curb carbon emissions, and I would like to believe that our city officials have the courage to do the same.

To the mayor, the council, and all those who represent the people, I would like to pose this question: Whose side are you on? The companies that extract from, pollute, and ultimately abandon our city? Or the people who, as my friend Jennifer Quick put it at a recent city council meeting, are “doing the work that makes Arlington a great place to live”? She went on to say, “It feels like no one’s got our back, no one’s in our corner.”

Now is the time to prove her, and the rest of us, wrong.