Energy and Environment Reporting for Texas

Fracking Goes to the Texas Legislature

Photo by Mose Buchele

Texas is not known for robust state regulation of industry, but some lawmakers are filing bills to address the current oil and gas boom.

Update/Correction: 03/08/13

The original version of this story reported that Rep. Van Taylor’s HB 100 would reduce methane flaring by encouraging the capture of more methane gas. In a subsequent interview, Rep. Taylor clarified, saying it reduce Co2 emissions by making carbon gasses more valuable to drillers looking to extract more oil and gas from unitized fields. It would not reduce flaring.

In some northeastern states like New York and New Jersey, elected officials debate whether to ban the type of drilling called hydraulic fracturing, or “fracking.” You’d be hard pressed to find talk like that from Texas lawmakers.

At a recent panel discussion hosted by StateImpact Texas, four Texas legislators from diverse political and geographic backgrounds all sang the praises of the fracking boom.

“As I tour my district, and I drive through what were once small towns and counties, what I hear is, it’s exciting, there are a lot of opportunities,” said Carlos Uresti, a Democratic State Senator from San Antonio, in a typical nod to the economic promise of the oil and gas boom.

But just below the surface, as you drill down into the issues, there is a debate forming over the role Texas elected officials will play in regulating the impacts of drilling.

Uresti, for example, wants to take oil and gas tax revenue to fix roads damaged by drilling trucks.  That got a lukewarm response from some other panelists. Senator Rodney Ellis, a Democrat from Houston, wondered if industry shouldn’t pay for the damage itself.

Ellis has proposed some bills of his own, including one that would review and possibly reduce tax exemptions the state gives to drilling companies. He’s framing his proposal as a kind of “sunset legislation” for all tax loopholes, not just drilling.

Photo by Jeany Choi

Four lawmakers sat down to talk drilling, legislation and the oil and gas boom with StateImpact Texas Mose Buchele.

“I think we should take every tax break we give in Texas though the sunset review process. And if it was a good idea when it’s passed, it will be a good idea again,” Sen. Ellis said. “But we ought to take the fiscal cliff argument. Let it die!”

Republican Representative Phil King from Weatherford, who sits on the House Committee on Energy Resources, was skeptical about that proposal, worrying it could hurt industry in his district.

King comes from the North Texas Barnett Shale region. There’s a lot of natural gas there, but its value has dropped because it’s so abundant. That’s lead to a decrease in drilling that King wants to reverse.

Some Other Bills Relating to Oil and Gas in Texas

  • HB 2305 Relating to inspection of compressed natural gas containers on motor vehicles.
  • HB 2184 Relating to the partition of mineral interests of a charitable trust.
  • HB 2277 Relating to the storage of liquid waste from drilling and hydro-fracking
  • HB 2184 Relating to the partition of mineral interests of a charitable trust.
  • SB 1063 Relating to the inclusion of natural gas as a public facility for a public facility corporation.

“From my perspective, we still need that incentive to help offset the cost of those very expensive Barnett Shale wells,” he said.

Another proposal this session aims to encourage more oil and gas extracting from fields.

Van Taylor is a Republican State Representative from Plano. He says his plan would give property owners a bigger say in how drillers use their land – and could increase the productivity of existing oil and gas fields.

“We’re saying that 70 percent of the owners would come together and decide the future of a field. This is legislation that has been passed in every other major oil producing state. Texas is the exception,”  Rep. Taylor said.

Taylor has filed another bill touching on property rights that would change the state’s eminent domain rules. It would mandate that local governments pay mineral rights to landowners if they restrict drilling in their jurisdictions. Supporters of the proposal say the bill would protect private property, though others worry that would make it difficult for communities to regulate oil and gas drilling in their own backyards.

Senator Uresti raised another point: How do you know what a property owner’s mineral rights are worth if they’re untapped?

“I think the burden is on the landowner to prove what the burden is of those assets,” Taylor said.

You might expect to see a few more bills filed about drilling before the end of the week. This Friday is the deadline for filing new legislation.


About StateImpact

StateImpact seeks to inform and engage local communities with broadcast and online news focused on how state government decisions affect your lives.
Learn More »