AUSTIN (CN) – The Texas Senate on Monday approved a bill that would prohibit local governments from restricting oil and gas drilling in response to the controversial voter-approved fracking ban in Denton.
By a 24-7 vote, lawmakers approved House Bill 40 authored by State Rep. Drew Darby, R-San Angelo. The state’s House of Representatives approved the measure in April. Texas Gov. Greg Abbott has ten days to sign the bill into law. Abbott yet to issue a public statement about the bill, his office said Monday.
If signed into law, municipalities “may not 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.”
Proponents of the measure have said cities are preempted from regulating oil and gas drilling in the state, arguing the Texas Railroad Commission is the only agency authorized under law. The bill “expressly preempts” cities from doing so.
“The legislature recognizes that in order to continue this prosperity and the efficient management of a key industry in this state it is in the state ‘s interest to explicitly confirm the authority for regulation of oil and gas activities within the state,” the bill states. “The legislature intends that this Act expressly preempts regulation of oil and gas operations by municipalities and other political subdivisions that is already impliedly preempted by state law.”
State lawmakers have been under pressure to enact such a law after Denton voters approved a fracking ban on Nov. 4 with 58 percent of the vote.
State Rep. Phil King, R-Weatherford, filed similar bills seeking to prohibit fracking bans within weeks of the vote.
Also known as hydraulic fracturing, fracking is the practice of drilling and injecting highly pressurized fluid to break shale rocks to release natural gas. The practice has been popular in the vast Barnett Shale in North Texas, as rising energy prices have made the expensive process more profitable.
Other cities in the region have tried to regulate fracking due to environmental concerns by citizens. Denton, pop. 123,000, northwest of Dallas, is the first city to ban it outright.
Lobbyists with the Texas Oil & Gas Association swiftly sued the city within hours of polls closing, arguing the ban is preempted and in violation of the Texas Constitution. The Texas General Land Office, led by George P. Bush, filed a similar lawsuit the same day in Travis County Court.
Denton has denied all of TXOGA’s allegations, saying its lawsuit fails to identify what state regulations “allegedly occupy the ‘entire field’ rendering the initiative ordinance preempted and unconstitutional.”
The city blames fracking activities for conditions “subversive of public order,” calling the practice an “obstruction of public rights of the community as a whole.”
“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,” the city’s stated. “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.”
The grassroots Denton Drilling Awareness Group and Earthworks filed to intervene in the lawsuit on Denton’s behalf in December, saying they would “provide a vigorous defense of the legality and enforceability” of the ban.
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