Tyrant’s Foe: Meet the Anti-Frackers


A version of this story ran in the March 2014 issue.

Above: Raymond Crawford

Last December the city of Dallas passed a ban on oil and gas drilling. If that seems like an uncharacteristic move for a city sitting tantalizingly above the oil-and-gas-rich Barnett Shale, it’s because grassroots activists drowned out the industry. The anti-drilling forces were led by Raymond Crawford, a soft-spoken native Texan who fought City Hall to keep gas rigs out of his neighbors’ backyards.

“It was just one of those things that spoke to me, and I can’t really explain that … without getting spiritual,” Crawford said. “Sometimes opportunities present themselves, and I decided to walk through that door.” The city ordinance, passed by the Dallas City Council with a two-thirds majority, requires a 1,500-foot set back between a residence and a drilling rig.

Crawford, 53, lives with his domestic partner in the southwest Dallas home his parents built. Crawford’s odyssey in fighting to keep big oil and gas at bay began with an email.

A friend sent him a note in 2010 warning him that the oil and gas industry, which uses hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, to tap oil and natural gas deep in the earth with a mixture of high-pressure water and chemicals, was eyeing drilling permits within city limits.

At the time, Crawford put the email aside, ambivalent about its implications. He is far from a policy wonk: Crawford runs a successful needlepoint design business out of his home and makes his rounds at trunk shows. “I was raised conservative Christian, but we always watched the news and read the paper,” Crawford said. “Our family was kind of social, but we weren’t political by any means.”

Crawford started the grassroots campaign Dallas Area Residents for Responsible Drilling in 2011 after he watched an anti-fracking documentary and realized what could transpire if the issue went unaddressed by Dallas’ citizenry, which was at the time largely unaware that gas companies wanted to encroach on residential areas. “I said, ‘Oh my God, this is coming to my city, close to my neighborhood,’” Crawford said, when it “clicked” that fracking in Dallas could become a reality.

Every movement needs a leader, and locals rallied behind Crawford in droves when he organized town hall meetings to educate neighbors about the noise, fumes, decreased property value and other potential harms a fracking operation only a few hundred feet from a house could bring.

“I consider [Crawford] to be the father of the anti-fracking movement in Dallas,” Marc McCord, director of Frac Dallas, said. McCord’s group was one of many organizations that jumped on board with Crawford in slowing city officials from granting sweeping approval for drilling.

The anti-fracking movement took its case to City Council meetings. Up to 200 people attended meetings where drilling permits were discussed, even when the City Council scheduled hearings in the days before Christmas. A back-and-forth between activists and the council went on for two years before the council passed the ordinance.

“There is a price to pay for civic involvement. You don’t get paid, and you give a lot of time and effort. The reward is the win,” Crawford said.

The threat of wells near Dallas residents’ doorsteps is gone for now, but activists like Crawford remain vigilant. Anti-fracking organizers point to the ongoing effects of the shale boom in areas around Fort Worth, which have been experiencing earthquakes. Though several studies suggest fracking as the cause of the quakes, scientists have been cautious about labeling their findings as conclusive.

“If you take this at face value, the easy thing to do would be to walk away and forget about it,” Crawford said. “There’s a part of us knowing ‘never say never.’ We trust that there’s not going to be any applications in the near future within the confines of Dallas, but that doesn’t mean that someone won’t apply a loophole.”

Crawford has gone “underground” for now, returning full time to his needlework featuring kitschy characters and colorful flora and fauna, but he said he will always be ready to fight for his hometown again.