Texas moved a step closer to preempting cities and counties from banning fracking. On April 17, by a vote of 122-18, the Texas House passed House Bill 40 recognizing the Texas Railroad Commission’s long-held authority to regulate oil and gas exploration and production, including hydraulic fracking, in the state.
The bill was a reaction to the Denton, Texas’ fracking ban. Denton’s ban, approved by city voters in November, was first ever attempt by a Texas city to assert local power to ban oil and gas production. If HB 40 ultimately becomes law, the bill would ban any ordinance that prohibits an oil and gas operation. A companion bill awaits action in the Texas Senate.
In a concession to the Texas Municipal League, which agreed not to oppose the bill, cities would retain limited authority over oil and gas production through their power to set reasonable limits on noise, night lighting, traffic and setbacks from buildings, although restrictions on the distance of wells to homes, schools and churches would have to be “commercially reasonable,” according to the bill.
Industry Applauds Bill
The Texas Oil & Gas Association released a statement calling the bill a “fair solution that balances local control and property rights and affirms that the state should regulate oil and gas operations as it has for decades.”
Gary Stone, vice-president of engineering for Five States Energy Capital, applauded the Houses move.
“The petroleum industry, land and mineral owners, and 75% of Texans in a recent poll cheer the passage of HB 40 by the Texas House,” said Stone. “While the bill preserves city authority over certain surface regulations, it affirms the long-held right of the state to regulate oil and gas operations. As importantly, the bill prevents local ordinances from stopping reasonable production. This in effect results in the taking of property (oil and gas reserves) without compensation, a violation of the Texas Constitution.”
H. Sterling Burnett ([email protected]) is managing editor of Environment & Climate News.