Other Voices

Frack bans are big government in action

We’ve heard a lot about hydraulic fracking in North Texas, especially after Denton banned the process. As many legal experts attest, that ban runs afoul of state law and puts local taxpayers on the hook for legal bills as the city defends itself in court.

But there’s a more fundamental problem with local fracking bans. They threaten something all Texans cherish: private property rights.

Before drilling, energy companies must identify the individuals who own the subsurface rights, known as mineral owners. The companies and mineral owners enter into a private contract to develop the property. Mineral owners typically receive a royalty payment based upon production.

This has produced a winning scenario for Texas and the entire country. Thanks to drilling on private property, America is now the world’s largest natural gas producer and may soon overtake Saudi Arabia as the largest oil producer.

Billions of dollars have flowed to mineral owners, many of whom are on fixed incomes and use that money to buy groceries and pay bills.

Last year, the Texas oil and gas industry paid over $15 billion in taxes and royalties — a record high — which funded schools, roads, and first responders.

But fracking bans undermine these benefits by prohibiting how Texans develop their own property. That’s why I introduced two pieces of legislation.

House Bill 539 requires transparency so that voters know the costs to public schools and all local taxing entities when a city introduces an ordinance regulating oil and gas production.

It also protects public schools by having the city hold school funding harmless from fiscal consequences of that ordinance.

House Bill 540 requires referendums altering local ordinances first be deemed legal under Texas law. Without this protection, taxpayers are forced to pay for lawsuits that should have never been necessary.

In Denton, environmental groups from Washington, D.C, New York and San Francisco poured resources into the effort to ban fracking, making it part of their nationwide campaign to ban fossil fuels.

When the measure passed, these out-of-state groups celebrated, but it is Denton’s taxpayers who now pay to defend their “victory.”

Supporters of Denton’s fracking ban wrote recently that individuals like myself are trying to “disenfranchise” residents. They even accused me of violating my conservative principles, arguing that since a local government passed a measure, any attempt to overturn it would be using “big government” to squash dissent.

They have it backwards, because “big government” is happening at the local level.

As Gov. Greg Abbott said, local bans on everything from plastic bags to tree cutting are making parts of Texas resemble California, the embodiment of big government.

The fact that out-of-state liberal political groups pushed so hard for these measures in Denton is a clear indication that this wasn’t about “local” control.

As a lifelong resident of North Texas, I want this region to remain an engine of innovation and growth.

The Texas Miracle wasn’t created by banning drilling, but rather through a welcoming business climate with consistent statewide regulations.

Oil and natural gas development, like any industry, must be appropriately regulated.

There are well over 10,000 producing wells operating successfully within Texas municipalities today. The state oversees this production, while cities have authority over zoning, noise and other activities that address local concerns.

No one in Texas should have the authority to take another’s property through the arbitrary use of government. Nor should unnecessary regulation hamper our pursuit of economic development and ultimately energy independence.

I’m proud to stand up against this kind of assault on our Texas values.

State Rep. Phil King, R-Weatherford, represents House District 61, covering Parker and Wise counties.