Although the economic power of a group is related to their potential political power, economic power is not directly equivalent to political power. In fact, when industries are in a period of economic incline (i.e. their economic power is increasing), they usually have less political power because they have less incentives to politically mobilize (Prechel 1990). Industry segments become more politically powerful when they face periods of economic decline. When prevailing political legal arrangements limit profits and industrial groups face economic uncertainty, they are more likely to politically unify to rearrange state regulation to better achieve their economic interests.
You can see how this works in regards to the Denton fracking ban. The Texas oil and gas industry is facing a period of economic decline. Since they are facing economic uncertainty, industry groups are more likely to mobilize to squash perceived threats.
The community of Denton’s efforts to ban fracking in city limits is one of the threats perceived by the Texas oil and gas industry. The Texas oil and gas industry has become increasingly reliant upon fracking technology. Fracking is the process of injecting fluid into the ground to fracture shale rocks in order to to extract once unreachable oil and gas. However, fracking has been associated with earthquakes (SMU 2015), water pollution (Osborn et. al. 2011), and air pollution (Litovitz et. al. 2013).
The community of Denton politically mobilized to ban fracking within city limits in order to reduce environmental costs associated with the fracking process. The community organized to including a fracking ban on the ballot. On November 4, 2014, the city’s residents voted to approve the ban.
However, once the community successfully mobilized and voted to ban fracking, faced with increased uncertainties, the Texas oil and gas industry responded by pressuring state regulators to override the ban. The Texas Oil and Gas Association immediately filed suit (Texas Oil and Gas Association v. City of Denton 2014). The industry also began to lobby state officials, resulting in the passage of House Bill (HB) 40. The bill prohibits municipalities from regulating the oil and gas industry, giving full authority to the state. HB 40 was approved and signed into law by Gov. Greg Abbott on May 18, 2015.
As a result of industry efforts and industry pressure on state-level politicians and state managers, communities do not have the power to control fracking within their city limits. Although state-level politicians and state managers claim HB 40 is a victory for private property rights, it only protects the private property rights of capitalist elites at the expense of residents living in the area (Phillips 2015). Due to the historical conditions facilitating the political mobilization of capitalist elites and the structural power of the Texas oil and gas industry, Denton residents failed to obtain the political power to control the environment in which they live. Although the economic power of the Texas oil and gas industry is decreasing as they face a period of economic decline, their political power is increasing, as they are more motivated to change prevailing political legal arrangements to better serve their interests.
Litovitz, Aviva, Aimee Curtright, Shmuel Abramzon, Nicholas Burger and Constantine Samaras. 2013. Enviornmental Research Letters 8:1-8. Available at http://iopscience.iop.org/1748-9326/8/1/014017/pdf/1748-9326_8_1_014017.pdf.
Osborn, Stephen, Avner Vengosh, Nathaniel Warner and Robert Jackson. 2011. “Methane Contamination of Drinking Water Accompanying Gas-Well Drilling and Hydraulic Fracturing.” Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America 108:8172-8176. Available at http://www.pnas.org/content/108/20/8172.
Phillips, Ari. 2015. “Texas Governor Signs Local Fracking Ban.” Think Progress. May 19. Available at http://thinkprogress.org/climate/2015/05/19/3660369/texas-prohibits-local-fracking-bans/.
Poulantzas, Nicos. 1978. State, Power, Socialism. London, UK: New Left Books.
Prechel, Harland. 1990. “Steel and the State; industry Politics and business Policy Formation, 1940-1989.” American Sociological Review 55:648-668. Available at http://sociology.tamu.edu/images/Prechel_ASR_1990.pdf.
Southern Methodist University. 2015. “Quest to Understand North Texas Earthquakes.” Available at http://www.smu.edu/News/NewsIssues/EarthquakeStudy.
Texas Oil and Gas Association v. City of Denton. 2014. Case Number 14-08933-431. Available at https://s3.amazonaws.com/static.texastribune.org/media/documents/TXOGA_Petition_file_stamped.pdf.