Ed Longanecker: Ban it, and unintended consequences will arise

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Once again, an industry responsible for building and supporting all areas of the Texas economy is being targeted by East and West Coast activists seeking to slow responsible hydrocarbon development through fear. Millions of dollars from agenda-driven organizations unconcerned with the well-being of Texas citizens continue to funnel into our state and others across the country to advance anti-oil and natural gas campaigns. If adopted, these ordinances will have unintended consequences for citizens, city governments and mineral owners that far outweigh any perceived benefit.

An anti-hydraulic fracturing campaign is currently in full swing in the city of Denton. Over the years, a minority of residents have called for a ban on hydraulic fracturing, but city leaders have accurately expressed apprehension that such a ban would not be legally defensible. To help address such concerns, however, the Denton City Council adopted new rules in early 2013 that established a 1,200-foot setback for well sites, new requirements for air and water monitoring, and increased operator liability.

Despite these expanded requirements, the latest proposal seeks to take the campaign one step further. If successful, Denton would be the first major city in Texas to ban the practice, and the first U.S. city to do so after previously permitting drilling. Whether or not the ordinance holds up in court is another matter entirely.

Given the importance and potentially precedent-setting nature of this proposal, if adopted by voters, the Denton ordinance will face a wave of litigation challenging its legality. Other attempts to abuse local ordinances by using them to supersede state-regulated oil and natural gas activities are already triggering legal claims, including that such mandates are pre-empted by state oil and gas regulation and amount to uncompensated taking of producer and mineral property rights. Denton will be no different.

Sadly, the legal costs incurred in the aftermath of ordinance adoption will not be borne by the opportunistic ringleaders currently sowing seeds of fear in Denton. That burden will be shouldered by the Denton taxpayers and city government. Those who planted and fostered the ideas that led to the ban proposal will be on their way to another town to alarm citizens into taking action that aligns with their radical ideals.

Local control measures targeting the oil and gas industry are not a new phenomenon; New York alone has generated nearly half of the country’s local ordinances attempting to restrict or ban hydraulic fracturing. A recent ruling by a New York appeals court to allow the use of local zoning laws to ban hydraulic fracturing was seen as victory for environmentalists.

However, the Denton proposal is an entirely different legal argument than the approach used in New York, as it is not seeking a ban through local zoning authority. Comparisons to New York that are more worthy of consideration are those that track the exodus of companies and employees from these over-regulated states to Texas. When you consider this, is following the “New York model” really the best choice for the citizens of Denton?

The Texas oil and gas industry is governed by a regulatory structure envied by all other oil- and gas-producing states for its ability to simultaneously protect private property rights, public health and safety, all while allowing oil and natural gas producers to conduct their business and drive the state and local economies. Texas has been effectively and responsibly regulating oil and gas for over 100 years, and states like New York and California should be trying to emulate our system, not the other way around.

Texas leads the country in all aspects of oil and natural gas development due in large part to its pro-business environment and proactive, yet sensible, regulatory leadership. This critical industry continues to provide funding that supports all levels of our economy, including public education, Medicaid, children’s health insurance programs, infrastructure investment, Child Protective Services, water conservation and more. Since hydrocarbon development began in Denton, it is estimated that the city alone has generated more than $30 million in revenue from natural gas production in the area.

For the Texas citizens who have concerns over hydraulic fracturing — not the organizations funded by celebrity activists — the amount of misinformation being shared is deafening. With the onslaught of fictional documentaries like Gasland and Gasland Part II, both of which have been thoroughly debunked, and the additional anti-oil and gas rhetoric being spewed by those looking for a cause or paycheck, it’s understandable why many may overestimate the environmental, health and safety risks of hydraulic fracturing, a process that has been safely used in 1.5 million wells over the past 60 years in the United States. Much like Hollywood, the picture you are being shown is not reality.

Denton voters have two paths before them, one of responsible energy development and the enormous benefits that come with it, or a future plagued by lawsuits at the expense of taxpayers. Please help protect Texas property rights, prevent overreaching regulations on business, and support an industry that has helped our state prosper for decades. Oppose the Denton hydraulic fracturing ban.

ED LONGANECKER is president of the Texas Independent Producers & Royalty Owners Association.

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