HB 40 has passed the House but all hope is not lost. It still has to be reconciled with the Senate version of the bill. So, it is time to apply pressure on the Senate. It’s probably best not to ask them to oppose the bill at this point (unless you know that they already oppose the bill), but to add amendments to it that further protect local control for health and safety reasons.
A key talking point here in the wake of the recent studies definitively linking injection/disposal wells to earthquakes: Request that the bill explicitly grant local governments the right to control injection wells. Local communities are the ones exposed to the risks of earthquakes and so should be the ones empowered to decide whether those risks are acceptable or not.
Here is a list of the TX Senators. Contact them all, but if you only have time to contact a few, make it Jane Nelson (Senator for areas impacted by earthquakes), Craig Estes (Senator for much of the Denton area), and Troy Fraser (Chair of the Senate Committee on Natural Resources and Economic Development where the bill is now being considered). Here is all the contact info:
The real reason for the state preemption of local control over oil and gas development is, of course, money. The influence of the industry over Austin is no secret (for example, over $1.5 million in campaign contributions just to the three Railroad Commissioners supposedly regulating the industry).
In short, it’s pure politics – the brute power of special interests. Yet despite this obvious reality, our state legislators are trying to pass this off as sound policy in service of the common good.
The most recent example comes today from state Rep. Phil King. In the wake of a new scientific report linking disposal wells to earthquakes, King (who represents the quake-shaken Azle area) said, “This adds even more support to the fact that a state agency with the scientific expertise is the entity that needs to be regulating those type of wells.”
Yeah, that’s the reason for HB 40…to protect us from frackquakes! This tortured and anemic logic is the depressing doublespeak of an oligarchy pretending to be a democracy.
Sure, it would be nice if the state could conduct seismic tests about disposal wells. That could provide important data about risks. But it in no way answers the question of who ought to decide whether those risks are acceptable. THAT ought to be right of the people exposed to the risks – that’s the reason for local control. King conflates the epistemic capacity to characterize risks with the political jurisdiction over risk management. His argument is a non-sequitur: The state has more money and experts, therefore it should decide.
How would the state act in light of evidence of risks? The Railroad Commission’s staff seismologist (the person who will advise state legislators about how to act in the face of new studies) gives us a clue. He said of the report linking disposal wells to earthquakes, “the study raises many questions with regard to its methodology, the information used and conclusions it reaches.”
So, that’s how they’d act: like merchants of doubt, dragging their feet while newly-defanged communities suffer.
On Friday, the Texas House of Representatives approved HB 40, a bill that will “expressly preempt” local control of oil and gas operations. If HB 40 becomes law, whenever the industry thinks a municipal ordinance is not “commercially reasonable,” they won’t have to follow it – regardless of how reasonable it may be in terms of protecting health, safety, and welfare.
The approval of HB 40 is disappointing but predictable. After all, this is just another version of a story that is repeated far too often: Big money special interest groups using state power to override local democracy.
The oil and gas industry spent $21.8 million dollars this past election cycle to buy Texas candidates and committees. That’s 286 times the amount of money we spent on a successful grassroots campaign last year to ban hydraulic fracturing in the city limits of Denton. After years of being stonewalled in our efforts to negotiate with the industry (which would like to frack another 500 gas wells in Denton), the ban was our last resort.
Having been roundly shamed for being such bad neighbors, the industry chose to muscle up rather than amend their ways. It is an impressive show of force, but it cannot extinguish the candle of democracy that has been lit in Denton and in cities and towns across the state. It will not silence the voice of the people.
In true Texas fashion, we will defend our ban and our rights to local control against all odds.
To understand the importance of local control, just follow the money. Ask yourself: Might these elected officials be a teensy bit biased? They don’t represent communities; they represent the industry that bought their tickets to Austin.
Oil and gas donations across the political career of the candidate:
Greg Abbott, Governor: $9,050,007
Christi Craddick, Railroad Commissioner: $804,828
Tom Craddick, Energy Resources Committee: $767,084
Ryan Sitton, Railroad Commissioner: $486,626
Craig Estes, Denton’s Senator: $425,036
Jim Keffer, Energy Resources Committee: $322,183
Konni Burton, State Senator: $213,500
Myra Crownover, Denton’s Representative: $152,768
Drew Darby, Chair of House Energy Resources Committee: $141,865
Phil King, Energy Resources Committee: $113,000