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Texas Lawmaker Fights|City’s Fracking Ban

DALLAS (CN) - Concerned by a voter-approved fracking ban in Denton, Texas, a state lawmaker wants to levy harsh fines on cities that regulate oil and gas drilling, and stop them from imposing bans without state approval.

State Rep. Phil King, R-Weatherford, filed two bills on Dec. 18 for the Legislature to consider when it is called into regular session in January. HB 539 would force cities to reimburse the state for the "probable cost" of lost tax revenue and royalty income from limiting oil and gas drilling. If approved, cities would be required to make annual payments to the state for five years.

HB 540 would require cities to ask the Texas Attorney General for permission before placing such measures on the ballot. The attorney general would decide if the measure violates any state or federal laws and if its passage "would cause a governmental taking of private property for which the Texas or federal constitution would require compensation to be paid to the property owner."

More than 58 percent of Denton voters approved the grassroots measure on Nov. 4.

Within hours, lobbyists with the Texas Oil & Gas Association and state officials in the Texas General Land Office sued the city in separate lawsuits .

Fracking, or hydraulic fracturing, involves drilling and injecting highly pressurized fluid to break shale rocks to release natural gas. The practice has been popular in the Barnett Shale formation in North Texas, as rising energy prices have made the expensive process more profitable. Other cities in the region have tried to impose tighter regulations on fracking in the face of environmental concerns by citizens. Denton is the first city to ban it outright.

The Texas Oil & Gas Association claims that Denton's ban "undermines" the state's already "comprehensive" regulation of oil and gas development, and that the Texas Railroad Commission and Texas Commission on Environmental Quality have "exclusive" authority to regulate the industry.

Denton denies the allegations of preemption, and blames fracking for creating conditions "subversive of public order."

"Such conditions include, but are not limited to, noise, increased heavy truck traffic, liquid spills, vibrations and other offensive results of the hydraulic fracturing process that have affected the entire Denton community," according to the city's Dec. 1 answer in to the Oil & Gas Association lawsuit. "Those conditions, all of which are generated by hydraulic fracturing, constitute a public nuisance which may be abated and future occurrences prevented by the city under its regulatory powers and are not subject to preemption as alleged by plaintiff."

In proposing the bills, King said that other cities are looking to follow Denton's lead.

"The last thing we need is a number of cities ending up in litigation with their citizens, with oil and gas companies, and with the state," King told the Dallas Morning News. "What we need to do is get the policy and the state law clearly established so that everybody has certainty and understands the law and policy." Denton officials could not be reached for comment Tuesday evening.

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