The Texas Oil and Gas Association and the state’s General Land Office have stepped up the pressure on Denton and its ban on hydraulic fracturing — effectively a ban on gas drilling — and at the same time added an element to their lawsuits that should alarm Fort Worth and other cities.
TOGA and the GLO originally sued Denton in November, immediately after the city’s voters adopted the ban. They filed amended petitions Monday.
In addition to using a new state law, House Bill 40, as a tool to fight the voter-approved ban, TOGA and the GLO want a state court to invalidate the moratorium on drilling permits enacted by the City Council last year.
Fort Worth and other cities have used similar moratoriums in the past to get breathing room while the city staff and elected officials have worked on updates to their drilling ordinances.
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But House Bill 40 only allows cities to step into the picture of drilling regulation in limited ways. They may regulate only the activity “that occurs at or above the surface of the ground,” including such things as fire and emergency response, traffic, lights, noise or “reasonable setback requirements.”
All city regulations must be “commercially reasonable” and may not “effectively prohibit an oil and gas operation conducted by a reasonably prudent operator.”
TOGA and the GLO now argue that HB 40 made Denton’s moratorium invalid. That’s an important step.
It also points to another issue that’s important to Fort Worth. The city had a moratorium on permits for wastewater disposal wells for more than five years before banning those wells within city limits in 2012.
That ban still exists today. Some studies have linked minor earthquakes in North Texas to nearby disposal wells.
The oil and gas industry in North Texas for years has made disposal wells an essential part of its operations. Without the ability to dispose of millions of gallons of water used in and produced during the drilling process, there would be no more drilling.
Fort Worth’s ban might well be the next target for TOGA and the GLO.