Staples: A smart fix for oil and gas regulation in Texas

Safe communities and oil and gas activity have co-existed in Texas for more than 100 years. The productive relationships between communities and oil and gas companies have played a significant role in Texas’ success as an oil and gas state.

Today, that legacy is at risk as some cities adopt arbitrary rules that stop oil and gas development either through an outright ban or by imposing excessive regulations that make production unfeasible.

We know from experience that local officials and oil and gas operators can work together to develop reasonable solutions for their communities. Local ordinances that have the effect of stopping oil and gas production exceed the authority delegated to cities by the Legislature and result in the taking of property and a violation of the Texas Constitution. What’s more, shutting down oil and gas production threatens jobs and billions of dollars in state and local tax revenue from the oil and gas industry that funds our schools, roads and essential services. Local ordinances that stop energy production are not good for Texas.

Fortunately, state Rep. Drew Darby, the chairman of the House Energy Resources Committee, and state Sen. Troy Fraser, the chairman of the Senate Natural Resources and Economic Development Committee, have developed a common-sense and balanced solution (CSHB 40/SB 1165) that preserves our legacy of cooperation in Texas. As we’ve seen in written statements and public testimony, many city and other local leaders, from Marshall to Midland and from San Antonio to Lubbock, have welcomed the clarity this legislation provides on cities’ role in establishing oil and gas regulations.

Under Darby and Fraser’s proposal, cities maintain their authority to regulate surface activity related to oil and gas development. For example, cities can adopt reasonable oil and gas regulations that address issues commonly discussed at the local level, such as traffic, lights and reasonable setback requirements. Under CSHB 40/SB 1165, state agencies continue to regulate oil and gas operations like drilling and fracking, as they do today.

Texas has proved that it’s possible to develop oil and gas regulation that is both reasonable and protective. In fact, Texas has led the nation — and the world — in energy development because our state has always found a regulatory balance that protects communities and the environment while bolstering the economy and respecting property rights. As a result, 2 million Texans have jobs because of oil and gas activity. And each year, our cities, counties, schools, roads and more benefit from billions of dollars in state and local taxes and royalties paid by the oil and gas industry. On a national scale, oil and gas production in Texas is contributing to our nation’s energy security by helping us dramatically reduce oil imports.

All of this growth, security and economic benefits are occurring alongside stringent, science-based state oil and gas regulations that are protecting Texans, our air and our water. Indeed, safe communities and oil and gas activity continue to co-exist across Texas.

CSHB 40 and SB 1165 are welcome solutions because Texas can’t afford to have a patchwork of regulations for an industry that supports 40 percent of the state’s economy. This legislation promotes consistency, fairness and lawful use of local ordinances by clarifying the responsibilities of cities and the state for regulating the oil and gas industry.

As a Midland city councilman said when testifying in support of this legislation, “when reasonable minds come together, reasonable solutions are attainable.” These words ring true for CSHB 40 and SB 1165, which will put Texas back on the right path toward balance, cooperation and economic prosperity.

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Todd Staples is president of the Texas Oil & Gas Association.

This column originally appeared in TribTalk, a publication of the Texas Tribune.