Fracking Bill passes House, adds fuel to fire of state/local feud

Friday, the Texas House of Representatives passed House Bill 40, the Denton Fracking Bill, underscoring the broader local control narrative that has defined this legislative session, especially in the minds of municipal leaders across Texas.

The bill, which aims to provide statewide guidelines on the regulation of a variety of oil and gas activities, would most notably take away the ability of local authorities to impose their own regulations on hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, operations.

A vote on the bill was delayed by a computer glitch early in the week, but by Friday, House members passed the measure by a 122-18 margin, with author, Rep. Drew Darby (R-San Angelo), fending off all proposed amendments in the process.

The San Angelo Republican has repeatedly stated that without his bill, Texas would increasingly have a patchwork of inconsistent regulations that would undermine the future prosperity and economic impact of one of Texas’ most valuable assets.

Those who oppose the bill see it as a dangerous power grab, and one that will limit the rights of Texans to govern themselves across the many cities and towns across Texas.

The filing of the bill, and many like it, was spurred by the City of Denton’s 2014 measure, where residents of the North Texas city voted to ban fracking within the city limits. Darby’s bill, however, quickly became the focal point of the effort to protect continued production.

The Texas Municipal League, which had been one of the harshest critics of the bill prior to this week, dialed back its criticism following the addition of language by Darby and his committee to clarify where cities would be allowed to regulate, including emergency and fire response and noise.

While the bill easily passed the House Friday, the debate between the proper role of state and local authorities is sure to continue as other bills that include broad regulatory provisions in other arenas like gun rights come to the floor.