Burton backs bill that would block bans on fracking

Denton was the first city to ban hydraulic fracturing in Texas.
Denton was the first city to ban hydraulic fracturing in Texas. Star-Telegram archives

State Sen. Konni Burton is pushing a bill that would block communities from following Denton by banning hydraulic fracturing, saying such prohibitions infringe on individual property rights.

The Colleyville Republican filed a bill in Austin last week to amend the local government code that simply says that a county or municipality may not prohibit the drilling method for oil and gas wells.

“A city cannot infringe on personal property rights,” Burton said. “This is pretty black and white to me. .... A governmental entity should not be able to tell you what you can or can’t do with your property.”

Burton’s bill joins one filed earlier by state Rep. Phil King, R-Weatherford, that are a result of the fracking ban adopted by voters in Denton in November, the first of its kind in Texas. The city’s residents said they were reacting to their inability to stop drilling near their homes.

While fracking’s widespread use has greatly boosted domestic oil and gas production, it has also sparked controversy and growing opposition. Fort Worth, Arlington and Mansfield have all passed detailed ordinances to regulate urban drilling made possible by horizontal drilling techniques.

The Denton ban is being challenged in court by the state and the oil and gas industry. Burton’s bill, if adopted, would not go into effect until September 2015, having no impact on Denton.

Burton said she is not opposed to cities or counties regulating gas drilling — establishing such things as setbacks between a well pad site and homes, for example — but that she is not going to decide on every particular thing a city does.

“Regulations are very different than infringement on the rights of citizens. A ban is an infringement,” said said. A ban is an example of a city “overstepping their bounds.”

King’s bill, filed earlier in the session, would require any city seeking to regulate oil and gas activities to get a fiscal note prepared by the state budget board that details how much the proposed action would cut taxes for schools and other government entities. If a proposed ban cuts the funding, the city then would be required to make up the difference.

“I think most people agree that the city has a role and it has to be a reasonable role and the important thing is to define all of this,” King said. But the cities have to be willing to negotiatie.

“I would be very disappointed if the cities took the position of putting a line in the sand and not sitting down and trying to come up with the right policy for the state,” he said.

But Bennet Sandlin, executive director of the Texas Municipal League, said he liked the simplicity of Burton’s bill because it is a “better starting point.” He called King’s bill a “non-starter” since, for one, it takes away any attempt by a city to establish a distance regulation on gas wells.

The TML continues to meet with the oil and gas industry and other House members, including state Rep. Drew Darby, R-San Angelo, the newly-appointed chair of the Energy Committee.

“I think we can avoid a big blowup over this,” Sandlin said.

Max B. Baker, 817-390-7714

Twitter: @MaxBBaker

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