By MARC W. MCCORD
The Texas Legislature passed HB 40, which takes away local control over oil and gas operations and gives it to big government, under the guise of “protecting private property rights,” having uniform regulations to promote jobs and economic benefits, and offer “regulatory certainty for industry.”
Over more than a decade of natural gas development in North Texas, there have been numerous ordinances in effect in many cities. And yet, it never stopped the industry from producing minerals. Suddenly, the industry needs “regulatory certainty” to continue doing what it has always done in the past. HB 40 is the outgrowth of Dallas’ 2013 gas drilling ordinance and the fracking ban in Denton that passed last November.
Cities have always used zoning ordinances to limit what one can do with private property for the protection of the greater community in general. HB 40 prohibits that.
The total number of jobs created by drilling are very few and very temporary. A typical “new job” only lasts about 20-30 days, and then the crew moves with the rig to another location where additional “new jobs are created.” The jobs claims of industry are falsely inflated to mislead people about the economic impact the industry has locally. The total oil and gas industry jobs in Texas are a fraction of 1 percent of all jobs.
What HB 40 does is prevent cities from protecting the health and safety of citizens, property values, quality of life and the environment. Barnett Shale wells use an average of 5 million gallons of fresh water for every well drilled one time. That water becomes permanently polluted, so it has to be disposed in deep injection wells that are causing earthquakes in areas where seismic activity has never before occurred.
In the midst of a major drought, Texas cannot afford to use its freshwater in oil and gas operations that permanently destroy that water and forever remove it from our hydrologic cycle.
HB 40 also bars cities from prohibiting deep injection wells, which USGS seismologists have linked to earthquakes in Irving, Azle, Reno, Springtown, Arlington, Mansfield and other places around the DFW Metroplex.
HB 40 effectively reverses the hard work done by the Dallas City Plan Commission and Dallas City Council to enact sensible and reasonable regulations for drilling operations in a densely populated urban area.
No longer will imposed setbacks be allowed if the industry decides they are not “commercially reasonable” and would “prevent a prudent operator” from producing minerals in residential neighborhoods. No longer will compressor stations be limited to industrial manufacturing districts. No longer will chemical disclosure requirements be allowed. No longer will homes, schools, day care centers, hospitals, nursing homes, churches, recreation areas or workplaces be protected from exposure to the hazards and dangers of drilling activities.
Dallas and Texas residents need our cities to step up and take the lead in filing lawsuits that block implementation of HB 40. Our citizens need to share their concerns about their health and safety with elected and appointed public officials.
Our media needs to cover the true facts about how HB 40 was written by industry attorneys and given to the Texas House and Senate by the industry that has contributed millions of dollars to the election campaigns. Those same legislators ran on the promise of smaller government and local control before stripping away local control and giving it to big government to appease their financial contributors from the oil and gas industry.
It’s the most blatant assault on Home Rule Authority in Texas’ history.
And, while many Democrats voted to pass HB 40, it and all similar bills introduced in this legislative session were authored and offered by Republicans who claim to believe in smaller government and local control. This hypocrisy cannot be allowed to stand unchallenged.
Marc W. McCord is director of FracDallas.