Railroad Commission Petitioned to Replace Local Oil and Gas Rules Threatened by House Bill 40

April 7, 2015
Anna Geismar, (512) 691-3468, ageismar@edf.org

(AUSTIN – April 7, 2015)  The Environmental Defense Fund today filed three petitions for rulemaking with the Texas Railroad Commission, in an attempt to secure oil and gas regulations at the state level to replace local ordinances that will be hampered or eliminated if House Bill 40 passes. The bill, which passed out of the House Committee on Energy Resources on March 30, threatens hundreds of important local ordinances that protect public health, safety, and property from oil and gas development. In many cases, there are no existing state regulations to take the place of these rules.

“There are dozens of important, common sense, local rules governing oil and gas operations that have traditionally been enforced by cities in Texas,” said Scott Anderson, senior policy director at the Environmental Defense Fund. “If these local ordinances are suddenly preempted by state authority or if enforcement is hampered, we must ensure that the state actually will step up and take responsibility for protecting the health and safety of millions of Texans living near oil and gas operations.” 

HB 40 sets up tests weighted in favor of industry that any local ordinance addressing “surface” operations must pass. Local surface rules include such things as the distance drilling rigs can be located from schools and hospitals, limitations on truck traffic in residential neighborhoods, and noise restrictions.  Perhaps even more concerning is that HB 40 would completely preempt cities from regulating subsurface activities. Cities have dozens of rules addressing underground operations that provide heightened safety measures needed when drilling and other oil and gas operations are in close proximity to communities and property.

Examples of local ordinances hampered or completely preempted by HB 40 that would need replacement regulations at the state level include:

  • Truck traffic routing and time limits within city boundaries to minimize impacts on adjacent land uses;
  • Requirements for installation, maintenance and activation of subsurface  shut off valves that control well flow in the event of catastrophic damage at the surface from hurricanes;
  • Disclosure of pipeline and gathering system locations to allow cities to plan, and provide emergency responses and delegation of permitting authority.

“HB 40 as it currently stands threatens the health, safety and property of Texas citizens,” said Anderson. “If the bill passes without significant changes, it will be up to the state to expand its resources and rules to take on the role currently filled by cities and towns. Our goal with these petitions is to help ensure that the state’s Railroad Commission is indeed ready to take on this responsibility.”

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