To hear it from a vocal minority of drilling opponents, House Bill 40, the recently enacted law that clarifies energy regulation in Texas, is “big government” taking away “local control” from cities.
It’s useful to take a deep breath and assess what the law does — and what it doesn’t.
First, HB 40 actually strengthens local control. Prior to HB 40, cities with drilling ordinances could be challenged in courts for a range of issues, because there was no statewide law explicitly granting cities many of the regulatory authorities that they had assumed.
Now, it’s written in state law that cities can regulate surface activities, including setbacks, traffic and noise, as well as emergency response.
What HB 40 prohibits is a city banning energy development, be it through an explicit prohibition as happened in Denton or a set of regulations that are so costly and duplicative that they ban drilling.
Prohibitive regulation has become a favorite tactic among environmental activist groups, particularly in North Texas, as it allows them to ban drilling without saying that they’re banning drilling.
For example, when Dallas passed its 1,500-foot setback in 2013, the environmental activist group Earthworks celebrated it as a victory in their campaign to ban drilling everywhere.
Effectively, HB 40 prevents local governments from misleading their own residents, while preserving and even codifying the regulatory powers that cities have traditionally exerted.
Further, by clarifying how the state and cities can regulate oil and natural gas development, HB 40 also introduced certainty, which will prevent costly legal challenges that would otherwise have arisen.
This saves taxpayers’ money and public resources, while providing a more stable investment climate.
HB 40 was the result of weeks of bipartisan compromise. Getting Democrats and Republicans to work together sounds like science fiction these days, but our elected representatives from both parties came together on HB 40 and passed the measure by an overwhelming 146-to-30 margin.
Energy development is good for cities across Texas, as it supports 40 percent of the Texas economy, including 2 million jobs.
The industry contributes more than $100 billion annually to our local communities, benefiting working families, small business owners, hospitals, schools and our state’s rainy-day fund.
You may have noticed that prices at the pump are also pretty low, which is due to increased oil and gas development in Texas and across the country.
Contrast this with the environmental activist groups that want to ban fracking in Texas, who claim to be “helping” local communities.
Many of these groups are based in New York, Washington, D.C., and California, and they advocate “local control” because it serves their needs and helps them to spread misinformation around our state.
What they fail to mention is that their illegal bans force local taxpayers to pay the legal expenses. In Denton, the city’s drilling moratorium and fracking ban have combined to cost that city’s residents more than $1 million.
Had HB 40 been in place, local taxpayers would have been spared the high cost of the environmental groups’ national political agenda.
Many of these groups also claim that HB 40 is the kind of “big government” that Texans typically fight against. The opposite is true.
The United States has become the largest oil and natural gas producer in the world thanks to drilling on private land. Private property owners sign contracts with companies to develop oil and gas.
Banning drilling strips those private property rights away from Texans and effectively cedes them to the government. If that’s not big government, what is?
Far from being an attempt by “big government” to quash local control, HB 40 is a law that protects taxpayers, landowners and the energy economy that has made Texas a magnet for new investment.
Ed Ireland is the executive director of the Barnett Shale Energy Education Council.