Area legislators have introduced more than 30 bills in the state's 82nd regular session in relation to shale gas drilling and production. With a few exceptions, most bills are still in committee.
More than 20 of the bills attempt some degree of change in the regulations - from a small change in current legislation to an overhaul of the Texas Railroad Commission. Some bills would protect the industry from more restrictive environmental rules. Several bills seek to address air quality issues, while another handful of bills address property rights issues that have come under stress with the drilling boom.
In the case of SB 655, abolishing the Texas Railroad Commission, a new agency would be created with its powers and duties - the Texas Oil and Gas Commission. The elected governing body would be reduced from three commissioners to one.
The last day for House committees to consider legislation is May 9. The last day for the Senate committees is May 27.
Two Democratic legislators from Fort Worth, Sen. Wendy Davis and Rep. Lon Burnam, were active in filing drilling-related bills. Most haven't gained traction.
Burnam filed bills to give cities more authority over gas pipelines, prevent drilling within 1,200 feet of public schools, and impose a fee on drilling waste sent to commercial injection wells to pay for an oilfield cleanup fund. All are pending in committee.
He is awaiting hearings on other bills, including one requiring many condensate tanks to be equipped with vapor recovery units.
Burnam said bills that would better regulate the industry face an uphill battle before the House's Energy Resources Committee. They also face intense pushback from industry lobbyists, he said.
"For over 100 years now, the oil and gas industry has in large measure controlled the state government," Burnam said. "Especially in a committee like this, they are disproportionately influential."
Davis filed multiple drilling-related bills that are awaiting hearings before the Senate's Natural Resources Committee. They include tighter restrictions on gas vapor releases, commercial disposal wells and pipelines, and more protections for residents of some unincorporated areas.
Another bill would require companies to use a unique "tracer" fluid in the liquid they use for hydraulic fracturing, a controversial practice that involves pumping millions of gallons of water, sand and chemicals underground to break up rock and free gas. The bill would protect the industry from false claims of groundwater pollution and help settle costly legal disputes between drillers and landowners, Davis said in a February news release announcing the bill.
She was unavailable for comment Friday.
Two bills introduced by Rep. Myra Crownover, R-Denton, have already been approved in the Energy Committee, and should clean up unintended problems with new legislation passed last session, according to her chief of staff, Kevin Cruser.
Burnam, Crownover and Rep. Tan Parker, R-Flower Mound, have also signed onto HB 3328, known as the fracking disclosure bill, which is being carried by the committee chairman, Rep. Jim Keffer, R-Eastland.
The bill would require operators to disclose the chemicals being used when they hydraulically fracture a well. Some constituents have significant reservations about the bill, Cruser said.
"We've got some work to do on that," he said.
Some fracking companies, namely Halliburton and FracTec, have publicly opposed the bill. While many environmental groups, such as the Environmental Defense Fund and the Sierra Club, endorse the bill, others have opposed the bill's provision for trade secrets, calling for full disclosure.
Industry representatives testified to the committee that they need a trade-secrets provision.
A new law in Arkansas was touted as a full-disclosure bill even though it had a trade-secrets clause, according to Donna Adolph of Arkansans for Oil and Gas Accountability.
To apply for the exemption, operators need only fill out a half-page check-off sheet, Adolph said, adding that the burden of proof will move to another arena but falls on the same affected parties as before.
"The burden is on us to prove it's not a trade secret, and not the other way around," Adolph said.
New language added to the Texas bill puts forth specific criteria for trade secrets so that it doesn't become a loophole later, according to Scott Anderson of the Environmental Defense Fund. Operators must submit their claim that meets established criteria under both state law and the federal Emergency Planning and Community Right-to-Know Act.
If the trade-secret provision is not preserved, it diminishes the incentive and opportunity for industry to make innovations for "greener" formulas for fracking, Anderson said.
The Texas Legislature knows the world is watching this bill, Anderson said, and that the onus is upon it to set a national precedent.
Adolph said her group had a chance to look at the Arkansas bill in November and, made up of residents, was given the chance to provide feedback, including warning legislators that the trade-secret provision weakened the bill.
Flower Mound resident Ginger Simonson said she feels residents can be effective tools for change, even when up against well-funded industry lobbyists.
"When large numbers of the voting public start saying the same thing, it's more important to listen," Simonson said. "Even a good official, if they are nonresponsive, can be kicked out of office."
Simonson, active in the overturn of a mayor and two council members last year, continues to be active in local elections this year. But she has also turned her attention to state legislation.
Recently, she asked her friends and neighbors to urge support for HB 3792, which preserves a city's ability to regulate pipelines inside its municipal limits and gives it more authority over regulating compressors.
"The government closest to the voter is the most accountable," Simonson said. "The voters have the best chance of getting good laws - the most protective laws - from the people we see every day."
PEGGY HEINKEL-WOLFE can be reached at 940-566-6881. Her e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org.
LOWELL BROWN can be reached at 940-566-6882. His e-mail address is email@example.com.
SHALE BILLS INTRODUCED IN THE 82ND LEGISLATURE
Most bills meant to address problems with shale gas development or the agencies that regulate the industry are currently pending in committee unless otherwise noted.
HB 1124 - Safety requirements for gas pipelines in certain counties
HB 1125 - Provides for study of odorant in gathering and transmission pipelines in populated areas
HB 1556 - Provides setback of 1,200 feet between a public school and any well site
HB 2001 - Relating to the exemption or tax reduction for certain high-cost gas (referred to Ways & Means)
HB 2125 - Gives priority to oil and gas well inspections for certain counties
HB 2126 - Provides for fines for certain violations in certain counties
HB 2289 - Allows gas companies to use public rights of way (amended and approved by committee)
HB 2987 - Establishes an account for emissions monitoring in certain counties (referred to Environmental Regulation)
HB 3134 - "Death penalty" for operators that fail to plug inactive oil or gas wells
HB 3212 - Imposes fee on commercial injection of oil and gas waste (scheduled for public hearing)
HB 3460 - Requires oil and gas well logs to be filed with the state
HB 3792 - Provides for municipal authority in regulating pipelines inside city limits
HB 3328 - Disclosure of composition of hydraulic fracturing fluids
SB 103 - Requirements for installing, maintaining, operating and relocating wastewater pipeline facilities (referred to Natural Resources)
SB 105 - Restricts commercial injection disposal to certain formations (referred to Natural Resources)
SB 107 - Regulates repair of natural gas pipeline leaks (referred to Natural Resources)
SB 655 - Abolishes the Railroad Commission of Texas and transfers powers and duties to a new entity, the Texas Oil and Gas Commission (scheduled for public hearing)
SB 745 - Regulates saltwater pipelines (referred to Natural Resources)
SB 772 - Requires tracers in hydraulic fracturing (referred to Natural Resources)
SB 1049 - Disclosure of composition of hydraulic fracturing fluids (referred to Natural Resources)
SB 1041 - Provides for location of Railroad Commission hearings (referred to Natural Resources)
SB 1869 - Provides for fines for Railroad Commission (referred to Finance)
SB 1873 - Creates a well inspection fund (referred to Natural Resources)
SB 106 - Condemnation of municipal property for pipelines (referred to Natural Resources)
SB 875 - Provides a defense from nuisance or trespass prosecution arising from greenhouse gas emissions when operator is in compliance with state and federal environmental permits
SB 1633 - Rules for gas exploration and production in unincorporated areas (referred to Natural Resources)
SB 1870 - Regulates mineral interest pooling (referred to Natural Resources)
Air quality monitoring
HB 2694 - Continues the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (amended and approved by committee
HB 3110 - Requires the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality to perform a regulatory impact analysis before creating new standards for the oil and gas industry under the permit by rule or standard permit programs (approved out of committee)
HB 1126 - Emissions control for crude oil and condensate storage tanks in certain areas (referred to Environmental Regulation)
HB 3066 - Regulates air contaminant emissions from oil and gas wells (referred to Environmental Regulation)
SB 104 - Restricts venting of natural gas wells (referred to Natural Resources)