Texas House approves gutting municipal fracking bans
US workers change pipes at Consol Energy horizontal gas drilling rig (AFP)

The Texas House overwhelmingly approved a bill on Friday that would give the state the exclusive right to regulate the oil and gas industry, and gut the power of municipalities to pass anti-fracking rules.

In Texas, the top U.S. crude producer and the birthplace of fracking, the bill also needs to be passed by the state's Senate and signed by the governor before it becomes law.

State lawmakers have been under pressure to halt an incipient anti-fracking movement since November, when voters in the town of Denton voted to outlaw the oil and gas extraction technique behind the U.S. energy boom.

In fracking, a mixture of pressurized water, sand and chemicals is used to unlock oil and natural gas from rock. Operators say it is safe, but many environmental groups oppose the practice - calling it wasteful, polluting, dirty and noisy.

Fracking was pioneered at the Barnett shale formation, where Denton is located. Exxon Mobil Corp's XTO unit honed its shale expertise in the natural gas-rich Barnett. Most of the crude output in Texas comes, however, from the growing Eagle Ford and Permian fields to the south and west.

(Reporting By Terry Wade and Anna Driver; Editing by Steve Orlofsky)