Local authorities in Texas lose power to stop fracking

State of Texas seal
Source: DollarPhotoClub

Local governments in the state of Texas will no longer be able to stop shale exploration in their back yards since a legislative committee approved a bill that handed the power to regulate oil and gas drilling to the state.

The House Energy Resources committee voted 10-1 in favor of the bill, sending it on to the full Texas House of Representatives.

With the new bill in place, local governments would still have a say when it comes to activity accompanying oil and gas extraction – like traffic and noise – but they would be powerless to impose any regulation that would interfere with exploration activities themselves.

In the actual words of the bill, local municipality is within power to introduce “measure that regulates only surface activity that is incident to an oil and gas operation, is commercially reasonable, does not effectively prohibit an oil and gas operation, and is not otherwise preempted by state or federal law.”

It may not – on the other hand – “enact or enforce an ordinance or other measure, or an amendment or revision of an existing ordinance or other measure, that bans, limits, or otherwise regulates an oil and gas operation within its boundaries or extraterritorial jurisdiction.”

“An oil and gas operation is subject to the exclusive jurisdiction of the state,” the bill concludes.

The bill is often referred to as the “Denton fracking bill” as it was a legislative reaction to a ban on fracking imposed last Autumn in the town of Denton. The town sits on the northern edge of the Barnett Shale, stretching some 5,000 square miles beneath 25 Texas counties and pumping millions of dollars into state and local economies, and was the first to successfully impose a fracking ban in the state of Texas.

The ban immediately triggered legal challenges from the energy industry and criticism from state energy regulators.

At the time, Chris Faulkner, chief executive of Breitling Energy in Dallas – who has no interests in oil and gas exploration in Denton – said of the ban: “You can already hear the environmentalists saying, ‘If we can win in Denton, we can win anywhere.”

It is fears like these that The House Energy Resources committee aimed to assuage with their new bill. The bill would not retroactively overturn existing local restrictions, but it would provide a framework for opponents to challenge those mandates, according to Adam Haynes, a spokesman for Republican representative Jim Keffer, who co-wrote the bill.

A hydraulic fracturing ban is an example of something “that has gone too far and is definitely overboard,” Haynes said.

A recent study by Rice University found that local bans would have little impact on the broader US gas market. The “depth and efficiency” of the US gas market would buffer it against potential local policies that seek to limit access to shale gas resources, the authors concluded in the study, which was released in February.

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