Texas lawmakers have made it clear you don’t mess with Texas when it comes to extracting fossil fuels. Even if you’re a Texan.
On Monday, Texas governor Greg Abbott signed legislation that prohibits cities across Texas from banning hydraulic fracturing from their home turf. In what was a major agenda item for Texas lawmakers this session, towns like Denton, Texas — which passed the state’s first local fracking ban last November — will no longer be able to exercise local control over the oil and gas industry when it comes to nearby extraction.
The law will take effect immediately as it passed both chambers by more than a two-thirds margin. Communities will now only be able to impose ordinances that regulate aboveground activity related to oil and gas operations, such as things relating to traffic, noise, lights, or “reasonable setback requirements,” which dictate how far away drilling must be from buildings. The law is meant to ensure that these local surface regulations are commercially reasonable and do not “effectively” prohibit oil and gas operations.
In signing the bill, Gov. Abbott said it “does a profound job of helping to protect private property rights here in the State of Texas, ensuring those who own their own property will not have the heavy hand of local regulation deprive them of their rights.”
Many opposed to the bill found this type of rhetoric hypocritical, especially for a state with such a strong foundation in limited government oversight and local property rights.
“These bills absolutely conflict with longstanding conservative principles of local control and self-determination,” Luke Metzger, the founder and director of Environment Texas, told ThinkProgress in April. “Many of these legislators are speaking out of both sides of their mouths, decrying federal preemption of state sovereignty on the one hand, while pushing one-size fits all mandates from Austin overriding local ordinances.”
After Denton outlawed fracking in 2014, it was sued by the Texas General Land Office and Texas Oil and Gas Association. In another extreme reaction to the Denton fracking ban, lawmakers introduced a total of 11 bills this session to limit local oversight over fracking before settling on HB 40, which was signed into law on Monday.
“It’s a bad situation when city leaders’ hands are tied,” Denton Councilman Kevin Roden told the Wall Street Journal. “There seems to be an attitude that big state government knows better than the citizens of a city. I just think — conservative or liberal — that is something you don’t do in Texas.”
Texas is the country’s biggest oil and gas producer, and it rests on two massive shale gas deposits — the Barnett Shale in the north and the Eagle Ford Shale in the south. Other oil- and gas-rich states like New Mexico, Colorado, and Oklahoma are pursuing similar laws. In Oklahoma both chambers of the legislature have passed a bill limiting communities from imposing drilling ordinances.
Fracking is a process in which a mixture of pressurized water, sand and chemicals is sent underground to free up oil and natural gas reserves. Fracking operations are increasingly being tied to unusual earthquake swarms in states like Texas and Oklahoma. Local residents also worry about water and air pollution, as well as the heavy use of water in areas that are in short supply.