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New State Law Bans Local Bans On Fracking

19 June 2015No Comments

imagesThis year, Texas state lawmakers seriously restricted the ability of Texas towns to regulate local oil and gas drilling.  A law known as House Bill 40 was a reaction to a fracking ban passed by voters in the city of Denton, in North Texas. The bill known as “bans on bans” ends drilling and fracking prohibitions, and it allows other regulations only if they are “commercially reasonable.” This throws hundreds of other local rules, like setbacks and noise ordinances, into question. Denton repealed its fracking ban after the new state law was passed. It was a measure that sought to avoid lengthy legal battles from the energy industry.

Denton Mayor Chris Watts says battling the industry in courts over the definition of “commercially responsible” is an expensive proposition, not something most towns would want to take on. “It’s the standard based from the industry’s perspective. Not from a surface interest’s perspective, a neighborhood’s perspective, or a community’s perspective.” Others who oppose fracking are looking forward to testing cases to define the limits of the state’s new law.


Denton has come to represent local fracking bans and clashes between local governments and the oil and gas industry. While Denton is the first city in Texas to ban fracking, it wasn’t the first city to ban drilling within city limits. The Texas Municipal League’s survey shows that about 30 Texas towns have more general bans on drilling. Bastrop City Manager Mike Talbot says “It’s just not something you want in a residential neighborhood. They’re bringing those big rigs in, and it could be dangerous or cause a problem, so that’s why a lot of cities have that ordinance.”

Before the controversy in Denton, the local bans seemed to go unnoticed. However, House Bill 40 appears to render them unenforceable. Todd Staples, the head of the Texas Oil and Gas Association, the main industry group in Texas,  lobbied hard for House Bill 40. Staples points out that lawsuits challenging drilling bans were already happening before the law was passed, but he says there’s likely to be fewer lawsuits now that the law’s on the books. “We think that this should minimize it. Will there be some? There could be. We hope that there’s not. We hope that reasonable minds will sit down and try to establish what that is,” he says. “And, again, let’s don’t forget that in Texas, the communities and the industry did that very well for a hundred years.”

Bastrop City Manager Mike Talbot said he’s not sure what his town will do now that HB 40 is the law of the land. Municipal League President Bennett Sandlin said a lot of the towns with bans on drilling aren’t anywhere near oil and gas activity. His message to those towns: Don’t do anything. “If there’s absolutely no desire to drill there and there never has been, then a ban is probably commercially reasonable,” Sandlin said. However, he also said that if a company shows up and a landowner wants to let it drill, the town will probably have to let them.



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