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Texas Bill Targeting Fracking Ban Stumbles in House

After opponents of legislation to limit how much Texas municipalities may regulate oil/natural gas drilling activities had been rallying for hours at the state capitol, the bill's author pulled it from the House floor Tuesday because of discrepancies in a committee report on the legislation and for further consideration of amendments.

Rep. Drew Darby (R-San Angelo) sent HB 40 back to committee before its second reading on the House floor. The legislation is a direct response to a hydraulic fracturing (fracking) ban enacted by voters in the city of Denton, TX, last year (see Shale Daily, Nov. 5, 2014) and similar efforts under way in other Texas cities (see Shale Daily, March 31). HB 40 would nullify the fracking ban in Denton.

The bill was expected to return to the house floor later in the week. A companion bill (SB 1165) has passed out of Senate committee without amendments.

Meanwhile in Barnett Shale town Denton, the City Council was expected to vote Tuesday afternoon or evening on amendmentsto the city's drilling ordinance and on extending a moratorium on new city drilling permits (see Shale Daily, Jan. 7). Besides the amendments recommended by Denton city staff, fracking opponents want, among other things, mandatory vapor recovery units, 1,500-foot setbacks and reverse setbacks from wells with no exceptions, third-party air and water monitoring, and a prohibition on waste pits.

In Austin, advocates for local control of drilling activities staged an all-night vigil that wrapped up at about the time HB 40 was pulled from the House floor. "House Bill 40 is a direct assault on basic protections for Texas families and an attack on basic Texas values," said Robin Schneider, executive director of Texas Campaign for the Environment (TCE). "People are coming from across Texas to this all-night vigil to bear witness to the threat this bill poses to vulnerable communities across our state."

According to TCE, more than 300 Texas communities have ordinances limiting oil and gas production in some way: limiting hours of operations, requiring setbacks between wells and other properties, limiting noise and traffic, prohibiting certain types of disposal or requiring particular health and safety precautions.

To support its case, TCE cited an incident last Saturday at a natural gas well in Arlington, which is about a 45-mile drive south of Denton. No natural gas was released when a mishap during fracking resulted in the flowback of pressurized water, city authorities said. A voluntary evacuation was enacted, but by Sunday afternoon crews from well control company Boots & Coots had the Vantage Energy-operated well under control. "This was a very serious situation," said Arlington Fire Chief Don Crowson, a quote that was repeated by TCE.

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