Texas House lawmakers passed a bill that would prohibit cities from banning gas and oil fracking or issue other fracking-related ordinances that may hinder the industry’s activity.
This Friday’s vote followed a Denton referendum which banned hydraulic fracking within the city last year. Gas and oil companies were concerned that more cities may soon follow Denton’s example.
Supporters of the bill argued that some cities have ordinances that are outdated and prevent economic growth. They also said that cities would still be able to enact ordinances that protect citizens against noise and traffic. The bill passed through Texas House by a 122-18 vote.
“This strikes a fine balance. We tried to use a rifle shot to accommodate the needs of this growing state and the needs to develop the oil and gas resources, and yet protect the citizens of this great state,”
argued Rep. Drew Darby shortly after the vote.
But opponents of the bill claim that it offends local control. They also believe that cities should have some authority in order to protect public safety and health from an abusive industry.
Moreover, the bill is highly susceptible to future lawsuits as its provisions are easily to bend. Rep. Sylvester Turner stated that in its current form the bill would surely turn into a goldmine for attorneys. Mr. Turner was referring mainly to the “commercially reasonable” standards municipalities need to comply with when issuing fracking-related ordinances. Those standards are easily interpretable and can easily be challenged by industry lawyers, Mr. Turner explained.
But Texas oil and gas companies were content with the vote. Todd Staples, the chair of the Texas Oil and Gas Association, told reporters that the bill was both balanced and fair. He also said that the new legislation would allow Texas’ largest job creator to smoothly operate under the protection provided by clear and robust regulation. Mr. Staples also mentioned the 2 million jobs that gas and oil companies created and the billions of dollars in taxes that are used to fund schools, public services, and infrastructure.
But environmentalists have another version of the story. They believe that the new bill is an attempt from the “Big Oil” to protect themselves from the ugly consequences of their “dirty drilling” by stomping out the rights of local communities and their members.
However, finding a proper balance between the economic boost oil industry can bring in a state and public health concerns was a hot topic since shale drilling revolutionized the U.S. oil and gas industry this past decade.
Reining in fracking by means of ordinances divided state courts. Some courts (such as those in New York and Pennsylvania) said it was OK for cities to limit or even ban fracking within their limits, while other courts including Colorado and Ohio ruled that only states had that authority.
Opponents of the bill complain that the industry tries to move into residential neighborhoods in such an aggressive manner that only zoning laws allowed. They also claim that traditional democratic rights of local communities are currently ignored for the sake of money and job creation.
Image Source: The Guardian