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Texas Moves to End Patchwork of Fracking Controls

In Texas, where oil and gas are inextricably woven into the state’s cultural and economic fabric, the increasingly tense debate over fracking restrictions had pitted the state’s firm belief in individual rights and economic freedom squarely against its equally fierce stance for the independent authority of cities and local jurisdictions. That all changed recently, when state lawmakers came down firmly on the side of individual rights and economic freedom — at least when it comes to restrictions on hydraulic fracturing, or fracking.

Specifically, Gov. Greg Abbott signed legislation in May that put control over fracking restrictions squarely in the hands of the state, the nation’s biggest oil and gas producer. The legislation is intended to end what had threatened to become a patchwork of fracking-control ordinances and local rules. It was also meant to protect personal property rights.

“We’re ensuring that people and officials at the local level are not going to be encroaching upon individual liberty or individual rights,” Abbott said.

Under the law, municipal ordinances must be related to surface activity, must be “commercially reasonable,” must not effectively prevent an oil and gas operation from occurring, and must not be pre-empted by another state or federal law.

James Quintero, director of the Center for Local Governance at the Texas Public Policy Foundation, said that by signing House Bill 40 into law, Abbott “has taken some important steps to protect private property rights from local government overreach.”

The legislation was a response to a fracking ban voted into place last year by residents of Denton, Texas, about 45 minutes from Summit Casing’s headquarters in Fort Worth. Denton, a county seat with a population of about 762,000, has 275 fracked wells. Local residents were concerned about fracking’s impact on health and the environment. The measure to completely ban fracking in the city won by a margin of 59 percent to 41 percent.

During the same election season, Athens, Ohio, became that state’s fifth city to ban fracking. Voters in the California counties of Mendocino and San Benito did the same. More recently, a Maryland ban on fracking became law, following a state ban already on the books in New York. Cities including Boulder, Colo., and Santa Cruz, Calif., as well as Hawaii County, Hawaii, have also banned fracking.

The Dallas City Council in December 2014 passed restrictions that ban fracking within 1,500 feet of a home, school, church, or other protected area. The new rules effectively ban the practice within the city.

“The controversy over fracking is an ongoing debate, and the consequences are obviously a huge issue for our customers,” said Andy Eldridge, Summit Casing chief financial officer. Summit manufactures its own lines of centralizers and float equipment to service locations throughout the U.S. and in international markets.

“I think simply not knowing what to expect from one city to the next can be a huge burden for the operators,” Eldridge said. “Fracking bans have the potential to negatively impact our sales if oil operators believe their bottom line will be affected by bans and decide to stop drilling wells.”

State laws like the one passed in Texas should help operators better plan their operations to either continue drilling or relocate to begin new projects to drill and extract oil.

In addition, a recently completed study by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) found that although fracking has the “potential” to impact drinking water, the agency found no evidence that fracking has caused “widespread, systemic impacts” on U.S. drinking water. The report said that current industry safety practices are largely responsible for keeping drinking water safe.

These recent results support the Texas legislation to end local fracking bans.