As Chief of Arlington’s Fire Department, my job is to protect our city’s nearly 400,000 residents from undue harm in emergency situations. For that reason, I’m compelled to comment on House Bill 40, which the Texas Senate passed on Monday.
I testified against the original version of HB 40 during a House committee meeting because it went beyond the drilling ban issue and pre-empted local authority. Other local public safety officials and I were concerned that the Fire Code, a locally adopted ordinance based on international standards with the sole purpose to keep local communities safe, was missing in the bill’s language.
The City of Arlington is not against oil and gas development — we have more than 300 wells. We are advocates for safe gas wells. Drilling can bring economic opportunity to a community, but community safety must always be part of the equation.
Following that hearing, House Energy Resources Committee Chairman Drew Darby worked with the industry and cities to include local control measures for above-ground regulations.
During floor debate in the House of Representatives, Darby confirmed that the new measures would allow for the enforcement and periodic updates of the Fire Code.
Senate Natural Resources and Economic Development Committee Chairman Troy Fraser backed this new language as he worked the bill through the Senate approval process.
This is important because any action that would eliminate the rights of local jurisdictions to provide for the safety and security of citizens living in areas adjacent to gas well pad sites is harmful and a direct threat to the local authorities who protect and respond to gas well emergencies.
Eliminating the local ability to maintain safe urban gas well pad sites would put the lives of residents and emergency responders at risk.
In Arlington, gas well pad sites are next to homes, schools and other highly populated areas. Many of these pad sites have numerous wellheads in close proximity to each other, so these sites bring an added level of complexity to the urban setting.
This was demonstrated recently when a gas well emergency caused the evacuation of about 100 people in a west Arlington neighborhood. This emergency incident clearly showed that local resources and oversight are needed to keep local communities safe.
In Arlington, firefighters and other city responders were prepared for such a gas well emergency because of partnership efforts with natural gas industry operators and the effective use of the Fire Code. Local ordinances and the response of local resources kept the local community safe during the gas well emergency.
Gas well sites must be maintained to standards that lessen the chance for emergencies. This is effectively done through the Fire Code, which is applied to a variety of industries, not just oil and gas.
In Arlington, businesses from small sole-proprietor shops to multibillion-dollar corporations follow local fire and life safety codes, and their consistent application keeps the community safe.
No industry has ever been exempted from the Fire Code.
It is crucial that local communities retain the ability to ensure gas well pad sites and other infrastructure are properly maintained in order to reduce unnecessary risks to the public.
Local ordinances like the Fire Code protect communities when a natural gas well emergency occurs — just like the one that happened in Arlington in April.
State and local leaders have a shared responsibility to keep all Texans safe. The public has placed their trust in us to do so.
Don Crowson is Arlington’s fire chief and director of emergency management.