To Drill or Not To Drill?
Texas Fights Cities for the Right to Frack

There’s a battle for state’s rights underway in Texas, but it isn’t the one you’re likely accustomed to hearing about. Governor Greg Abbott signed a bill yesterday that consolidates control over fracking in Texas at the state level by prohibiting municipal bans and handcuffing the ability of local governments to control the locations of shale drilling operations. The idea behind the law, as the WSJ reports, is to prevent a piecemeal network of different regulations that might stifle the state’s booming shale resources:

The new law eliminates a “patchwork of local ordinances creating more and more regulation, some of which is intentionally onerous and intended to stop or limit oil and gas development,” said Ed Longanecker, president of the Texas Independent Producers and Royalty Owners Association.

The decision has riled many in the Lone Star state, however:

“The bill guts 100 years of traditional municipal authority to regulate oil and gas operations,” said A. Scott Anderson, a senior policy director for the Environmental Defense Fund, which advocates robustly regulating fracking. Other environmental groups say fracking, which involves injecting water and chemicals deep into shale rock formations, should be banned.

This is a debate that’s only just getting started, and it’s not only happening in Texas. Across the country states are clashing with local governments over the ability to regulate fracking, and in many cases these fights are being taken to court. It’s a tricky subject. While on the one hand it’s understandable that a patchwork approach to regulation might have a depressive effect on the industry, on the other hand local self-determination has been a key component of the U.S. shale success story.

But if states like Texas are going to wrest control of fracking away from municipal and county governments, then they also need to regulate these operations intelligently. Fracking in an urban or suburban area is very different from, say, fracking in a remote rural area, and the law can’t just say that anyone can frack anywhere at anytime. States that want to call the shots here, in other words, need to do so responsibly.

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