Texas Squashes City’s Fracking Ban

     AUSTIN (CN) – Gov. Greg Abbott on Monday signed a law barring Texas cities from regulating oil and gas drilling, effectively ending a voter-approved fracking ban in Denton.
      House Bill 40 prohibits cities from enacting any ordinance “that bans, limits, or otherwise regulates an oil and gas operation within its boundaries or extraterritorial jurisdiction.”
     The state House approved the bill by state Rep. Drew Darby, R-San Angelo, in April, and the Senate followed early this month .
     Darby said cities only the Texas Railroad Commission can regulate oil and gas drilling in Texas. The law “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 law 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.”
     Denton voters banned fracking there on Nov. 4, 2014, with 58 percent of the vote.
     Hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, involves injecting pressurized fluid to break shale rocks to release natural gas. The practice is popular in the vast Barnett Shale in North Texas, as rising energy prices have made the expensive process more profitable.
     Environmentalists say it can pollute aquifers and cause earthquakes.
     Other cities in the region have tried to regulate fracking due to environmental concerns. Denton, pop. 123,000, northwest of Dallas, was the first city to ban it outright.
     Lobbyists with the Texas Oil & Gas Association sued the city within hours of polls closing, claiming the ban violated 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 the industry’s lawsuit fails to identify what state regulations “allegedly occupy the ‘entire field’ rendering the initiative ordinance preempted and unconstitutional.”
     Denton blames fracking for conditions “subversive of public order,” calling the practice an “obstruction of public rights of the community as a whole.”
     Abbott said the law helps protect private property owners, because “the heavy hand of local regulation deprive[s] them of their rights.”
     “This law ensures that Texas avoids a patchwork quilt of regulations that differ from region to region, differ from county to county or city to city,” Abbott said Monday. “HB 40 strikes a meaningful and correct balance between local control and preserving the state’s authority to ensure that regulations are even-handed and do not hamper job creation.”
     Environmental advocate Earthworks disagrees, claiming the law forces every Texas city wanting “common sense limits on oil and gas development” to show that their rules are “commercially reasonable”.
     Earthworks intervened in TXOGA”s lawsuit on Denton’s behalf in December, saying it would “provide a vigorous defense of the legality and enforceability” of the ban.
     Adam Briggle, president of the Denton Drilling Awareness Group and a leader of Frack Free Denton, said Abbott “just declared that industry profits are more important than our health, our homes and our kids.”
     Earthjustice attorney Deborah Goldberg said state lawmakers “capitulated to the greedy but powerful oil and gas industry at the expense of their own constituents’ health, well-being and property rights.”
     “The Texas courts have upheld a long tradition of local control, so the Governor and the Legislature took matters into their own hands,” Goldberg said. “We have been proud to represent the proponents of Denton’s ban, and we know they will regroup and fight back against this legislative overreach.”

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