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.