Texas lawmakers pass oil company-friendly bill banning communities from outlawing fracking
US workers change pipes at Consol Energy horizontal gas drilling rig (AFP)

A bill supported by energy companies that prevents cities and counties from banning the practice of fracking on their land has been passed by the first tier of state legislators in Texas and is on course to become law.

The proposed law would stop municipalities and other local authorities from enacting their own bans on the practice of hydraulic fracturing and drilling for crude oil and natural gas. The state would have the power to override any such efforts and give gas and oil companies the access they desire to extract resources, against the wishes of voters and politicians at local level if necessary.

The bill was approved by the Republican-controlled Texas House on Friday and will now proceed to the Senate, where it is expected to be approved, and then Governor Greg Abbott. Abbott has previously decried the level of regulation placed on such companies by local authorities.

The move came in response to a recent decision by Denton, a college town about 30 miles from Dallas, to ban fracking inside its city limits over concerns about recurring small earthquakes and other safety worries linked to deep gas wells. Denton sits on a gas-rich shale formation that stretches across 24 counties in north Texas.

The Texas Oil and Gas Association, representing major energy companies, has sued Denton and has been lobbying lawmakers.

Moves from local authorities to try to keep fracking out of their backyards are afoot in other parts of Texas. Opponents of the bill now going through the Texas legislature complain that the state is grabbing power from local government and say the new law will jeopardise safety close to homes and schools.

“It is a carte blanche for all sorts of heavy industries associated with energy production, including disposal, transport and processing,” said Robin Schneider, executive director of the nonprofit Texas Campaign for the Environment .

However Republican lawmaker Drew Darby said the state was simply trying to accommodate the needs of the growing population of Texas and the potential to develop vital resources, while protecting citizens.

“This strikes a fine balance,” he said of the proposed legislation.

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