HB 40 awaits Gov. Greg Abbott’s signature

HB 40 awaits Gov. Greg Abbott’s signature

HB 40 awaits Gov. Greg Abbott’s signature
April 22
23:37 2015

The Editorial Board

The Texas House last week, after a three-hour debate, passed a measure, 122-18, that directly counteracts Denton’s ban on hydraulic fracturing. Of the three Denton County state representatives, only Tan Parker (R-Lewisville) voted against HB 40. Denton’s own representative, Republican Myra Crownover, supported it.

Authored by state Rep. Drew Darby (R-San Antonio), HB 40 did leave the House attached with some key compromises. But it also takes the life out of the city ordinance passed in November by allowing the Texas Railroad Commission rights to claim a city’s rule on oil and gas enterprises.

What it comes down to is lawmakers in Austin have determined the oil and gas industry ought to ultimately answer to the state government, not local municipalities. What’s at stake, according to the state, are mineral royalties, which are dependent on regulation. Darby’s HB 40 reverts regulatory power back to the state.

The bill entrusts a lot of faith in the state’s regulatory infrastructure, which has been questioned by activists. The language of the bill specifies municipalities can only regulate oil and gas active that is above the ground, meaning salt water removal pits, noise conditions — stuff like that. The fracking ban would be reversed, because fracking is a subsurface operation.

Moreover, the bill declares that only the state and federal governments have the authority to handle extensive measures. Basically, the state is better prepared — with more expertise — to oversee the oil and gas industry.

Throughout its journey in Austin, the bill has been veiled with debate over what is “commercially reasonable.” The bill mandates cities may not legislate against operations that are commercially reasonable — meaning the state will continue to administer the oil and gas as before. A well that has remained operable for the at least five years is deemed as commercially reasonable.

Further, municipalities may not prohibit “a reasonable operator” from conducting suitable and legal procedures — companies like Devon Energy. That doesn’t mean there will be any less regulation; just the state holds the final say.

Denton still holds the right to pass noise and traffic ordinances in relation to oil and gas operations.

Proponents of the bill have said the debate surrounding HB 40 clears a path for future negotiations in governing the limits and boundaries of the oil and gas industry. Denton’s ban set a precedent, one that swam too hard against the status quo.

Now, as immense debate and investment has poured into HB 40, and bills like it, clean energy activists may find a more open and prudent dialogue with the industry and Texas lawmakers on the issue.

Crownover, who said last fall she would not interfere with the fracking ban, voted in favor of the bill. Voters in Denton have expressed their disapproval, some calling for her oust. Her vote could not have swayed the vote either way, as it passed with large favorability.

It now goes to the Senate, where a similar measure was passed earlier this session. The Senate will likely keep the bill alive, and send it Gov. Greg Abbott for his signature.

Featured image of State Representative Myra Crownover courtesy of her website.

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