Texas municipalities argue proposed legislation will strip them of any control over oil and gas activities within their boundaries

A spat between Texas municipalities and an energy lobby group has erupted over local regulation of oil and gas development. We spoke to energy policy analyst Dr. Kenneth Green about the proper regulatory roles of cities and the State.

Texas municipalities

Texas Rep. Drew Darby.

On March 10, Rep. Drew Darby, chairman of the House Energy Resources Committee, and Sen. Troy Fraser, chairman of the Senate Natural Resources & Economic Development Committee introduced identical bills (HB 40 and SB 1165) to limit local regulation of oil and gas activities.

The Texas Municipal League says the legislation would expressly pre-empt most regulation of oil and gas operations by cities and all other political subdivisions.

“If this bill is passed, you could have a drilling rig operating right beside your back fence, your child’s day care center, your church or a hospital with all of the around-the-clock noise, hazardous materials, emissions and truck traffic that accompany drilling activity,” said Executive Director Bennett Sandlin.

According to Sandlin, many Texas cities have adopted setback requirements to create a buffer zone between drilling rigs and homes, schools, parks and hospitals.  He says the Texas Municipal League surveyed city ordinances in the Barnett Shale area in North Texas last year and found that 67 cities require buffer zones ranging from 300 feet to 1,500 feet between a well and residences.

Texas municipalities

Texas Sen. Troy Fraser.

“If city setback ordinances are nullified, homeowners can be robbed of their property values overnight without any compensation or recourse,” Sandlin said.  “It amounts to a government-sanctioned taking of their property rights.”

Todd Staples, president of the Texas Oil & Gas Association, shot back, accusing the League of publishing “patently false statements” about the proposed legislation.

“Contrary to TML’s press release, the legislation specifically asserts that cities can enact commercially-reasonable ordinances related to surface activity that is incident to oil and gas operations,” said Staples.

“Examples would include noise, traffic, lights and siting provisions. HB 40 and SB 1165 also affirm the state’s role to regulate oil and gas activities like drilling, fracking and production with comprehensive regulations that are protecting Texans and the environment.”

Staples argues that the legislation strikes the right balance by recognizing the right of cities to enforce reasonable restrictions on surface activities during oil and gas operations, and the responsibilities and expertise of state agencies for oil and gas regulation.

“The Texas Oil & Gas Association agrees that reasonable regulation and a long history of cooperation between cities, the state, and energy companies have been the key to addressing local concerns, protecting the environment, and growing our economy,” he said.

“If anything, HB 40 and SB 1165 protect that legacy by clarifying the responsibilities of cities and the state for regulating the oil and gas industry.”

Who’s correct, Sandlin or Staples? Listen as American Energy News publisher Markham Hislop discusses the issue with Dr. Kenneth Green.