The Texas House Friday overwhelmingly passed a bill to limit local regulation of oil and gas drilling. It comes after stronger local drilling ordinances and a vote by residents in Denton to ban fracking within the city limits.
In house floor debate, Republican Drew Darby of San Angelo said the state needs to reassert its authority to manage oil and gas drilling, and prevent cities from stopping it with local ordinances. He said House Bill 40 aims for a precise balance.
“I think we’ve tried to use a rifle shot to accommodate the needs of this growing state and the needs to develop our oil and gas resources and yet protect the citizens of this great state.”
The House bill allows cities to regulate ‘surface activities’ such as traffic and noise around wells, and some setbacks from drilling sites as long as the regulations are commercially reasonable," Darby said.
And under the bill, cities many not regulate anything underground, including fracking or waste disposal wells.
Darby assured opponents there are plenty of protections for current city drilling ordinances.
“Unless they were designed and passed to prevent oil and gas operations and have that practical effect, there is a presumption in those cities’ favor that that ordinance is valid,” Darby said.
Houston Democrat Sylvester Turner acknowledged the bill will likely become law.
“But just because the majority carries it doesn’t mean the majority is right," Turner said. "And I think in due time I hope this bill does not come back to haunt us.”
North Texas environmentalist Rita Beving is disappointed by the lopsided vote. She had hoped a leak of fracking water that cause an evacuation in Arlington last weekend would be a wake-up call for lawmakers.
“When a driller waits two hours to call in an emergency such as that, and the Railroad Commission is nowhere to be found, this is why we need local control,” Beving said.
The Railroad Commission oversees oil and gas operations in Texas. The House bill passed 122- 18.
Similar drilling legislation unanimously passed in a state senate committee last month.