NORTH TEXAS (CBSDFW.COM) – Many of the city-imposed regulations concerning hydraulic fracturing (fracking) and other environmentally questionable natural gas drilling activities could become null and void if a bill now on Governor Greg Abbott’s desk is signed into law.
The Texas Senate approved House Bill 40, a bill prohibiting local governments from adopting oil and gas drilling bans within a city limits, on Monday. The measure was filed in response to the City of Denton’s voter-approved ban on fracking. The vote was 24-7, North Texas Senator Jane Nelson being the only Republican to vote against it.
The House approved the bill last month in a 112-18 vote.
Fracking is a from of natural gas drilling that blasts huge volumes of water and chemicals underground to release tight deposits of oil and gas.
Governor Abbott has spoken out regularly about cities having the ability to make their own local regulations. Speaking at an event in January he said, “Texas is being ‘California-ized’ and you may not even be noticing it. It’s being done at the city level with bag bans, fracking bans [and] tree cutting bans. “We’re forming a patchwork quilt of bans and rules and regulations that is eroding the Texas model.”
But Luke Metzger, the Founder and Director of Environment Texas, says passage of the bill will open the door for oil and gas companies to reverse other ordinances, like the new drilling set backs passed in Dallas, Flower Mound and Southlake.
“It’s really a dangerous power grab by the oil and gas industry to erode those local protections,” he said. “Cities that have setbacks that say no drilling close to homes or schools… cities that have inspectors visit oil and gas facilities and make sure they’re following state law… [there are] a whole set of things like could potentially face litigation.”
Many of the opponents to HB 40 cited safety concerns about gas wells near residential areas and the number of recurring earthquakes that have occurred near natural gas wells and wastewater injection sites. A recent study done by Southern Methodist University found that oil and gas activity was the most likely cause of a rash of earthquakes northwest of Fort Worth.
Michael Hennen is a member of the group Frack Free, one of the groups that pushed for the fracking ban in Denton. He says they’ll look for ways to overturn the pending law in Austin. “We’re disappointed. We are frustrated… and I’m just mad as hell about the way the legislature has stomped over our rights, over our right to control things here in Denton.”
At Denton city hall officials are scrambling to figure out what the law says, what rights the city still has and what legal action the city might take. Denton Mayor Chris Watts said, “It’s not only our city that’s going to be doing that, every city in the state is going to be doing that… to go back and see how they measure up to the House Bill 40 that was passed.”
The bills authors say the regulation of the oil and gas industry is the sole responsibility of the state and that city involvement has resulted in lower production.
The Governor has 10 days to take action on House Bill 40. If he signs it, the new law would become effective immediately.
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