Originally published May 22 2015
No local democracy allowed: Texas governor signs law banning local fracking regulations
by J. D. Heyes
(NaturalNews) It's part of a in nationwide trend among state governments: Quashing local ordinances that tend to curb business interests over concerns about environmental issues.
A recent measure is Texas is a case in point: Gov. Greg Abbott recently signed House Bill 40 into law, which now bans cities from regulating oil and gas drilling, and effectively wiping out a voter-approved ban on hydraulic fracturing for oil and gas in Denton.
As reported by Courthouse News, the language of the measure prohibits cities from passing any ordinance "that bans, limits, or otherwise regulates an oil and gas operation within its boundaries or extraterritorial jurisdiction."
Texas, of course, is known for its traditional oil and gas drilling industry.
The state House approved the measure which was authored and submitted by Rep. Drew Darby, a Republican from San Angelo, in April; the Senate followed suit in early May.
Darby said that, in Texas, only the Texas Railroad Commission can regulate gas and oil drilling. The new law "expressly preempts" cities from doing so.
Denton first Texas city to impose ban
"The Legislature recognizes that in order to continue this prosperity and the efficient management of a key industry in this state it is in the state 's interest to explicitly confirm the authority for regulation of oil and gas activities within the state," the law states. "The Legislature intends that this Act expressly preempts regulation of oil and gas operations by municipalities and other political subdivisions that is already impliedly preempted by state law."
Denton residents banned fracking on Nov. 4, 2014, with 58 percent approving the measure.
As Courthouse News further reported:
Hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, involves injecting pressurized fluid to break shale rocks to release natural gas. The practice is popular in the vast Barnett Shale in North Texas, as rising energy prices have made the expensive process more profitable.
Environmentalists say it can pollute aquifers and cause earthquakes.
Indeed, fracking has been blamed for causing numerous earthquakes in Ohio and Oklahoma in recent months. In Ohio, more than a hundred small quakes have been blamed on fracking, which involves drilling deep into the earth's crust; as CBS News reported, the U.S. Geological Survey found that, since 2009, Oklahoma has experienced a 300 percent increase in quakes. Both states host numerous fracking operations.
Besides Denton, a city northwest of Dallas with a population of 123,000, other communities in the region have attempted to regulate fracking over environmental concerns.
But once Denton's local ordinance passed, lawyers for the Texas Oil & Gas Association filed suit within hours of polls closing, claiming that such bans violate the Texas Constitution.
The Texas General Land Office, led by George P. Bush of the presidential Bush family, filed a similar lawsuit the same day in Travis County Court.
Denton officials denied all allegations saying that the industry's lawsuit failed to identify what state regulations "allegedly occupy the 'entire field' rendering the initiative ordinance preempted and unconstitutional."
They blamed fracking for conditions that are "subversive of public order" and called the practice an "obstruction of public rights of the community as a whole."
"Industry profits more important than our health, homes, kids"
But Abbott countered that the law helps protect private property owners because "the heavy hand of local regulation deprive[s] them of their rights." Abbott and the law's other supporters were also seeking uniformity.
"This law ensures that Texas avoids a patchwork quilt of regulations that differ from region to region, differ from county to county or city to city," Abbott said, using one of the same arguments that the biotech industry uses to oppose GMO labeling. "HB 40 strikes a meaningful and correct balance between local control and preserving the state's authority to ensure that regulations are even-handed and do not hamper job creation."
Environmental activist group Earthworks disagreed, claiming that the law now forces every Texas city that wants "common sense limits on oil and gas development" to demonstrate that their rules are "commercially reasonable."
Adam Briggle, president of the Denton Drilling Awareness Group and a leader of Frack Free Denton, said Abbott "just declared that industry profits are more important than our health, our homes and our kids," Courthouse News reported.
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