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March 27, 2015

Compromise urban drilling bill could emerge Monday, says negotiator

Poll: Republicans, by 8-1, pick local over state control of neighborhoods

Texas cities wanting to keep their long-accepted drilling ordinances – and their right to set reasonable oil and gas drilling setbacks from homes and schools – might have something to celebrate by Monday, a key negotiator on House Bill 40 said Friday.
Texas Municipal League Executive Director Bennett Sandlin told Texas Energy Report that he believe a draft of a substitute bill is underway that could possibly get voted out of the House Energy Resources Committee on Monday.

“We’ve had some good discussions with Chairman Drew Darby and his staff. He’s made some indications to us that we’re going to be able to include language in that bill that will make it clear that the intent that was expressed in the hearings was true,” Sandlin said.  

“We’re going to preserve reasonable setbacks, reasonable noise ordinances and the like. He has told us that’s his commitment. We appreciate that,” Sandlin added. “We’re confident that Chairman Darby appears to be open to language that would grandfather ordinances that haven’t been challenged and are successful for a number of years. I fully expect to see something to that effect in the language that comes out on Monday.

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By Polly Ross Hughes

March 26, 2015

Nation’s top 20 cities for solar include San Antonio, Austin

Houston, meanwhile, helps launch mayor’s climate action agenda

San Antonio ranks 7th and Austin 17th among the nation’s top 20 solar cities based on total installed solar photovoltaic (PV) capacity at the end of 2014, according to a report released by Environment Texas today.

Compared to No. 1-ranked Los Angeles with 170 megawatts (MW) of installed solar, San Antonio has installed capacity of 88 MW and Austin has 21 MW of solar PV capacity, new data in the study shows.

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By Polly Ross Hughes

March 26, 2015

Keffer predicts ‘good product soon’ for HB 40, urban drilling bill

Natural Resources Chair also lists ‘waterless fracking’ as goal

Rep. Jim Keffer, R-Eastland, said Thursday morning he sees a “very good opportunity” that agreement will be reached between the oil and gas industry, cities and mineral owners on how to regulate urban drilling.

“I think we have a very good opportunity. It’s a delicate balance between industry, mineral owners and cities. It is something that is in progress. It is something that I have seen in cooperation between all sides of this issue,” said Keffer, a co-author of HB 40 by House Energy Resources Committee Chairman Drew Darby, R-San Angelo.

“We’ll have a very good product here soon to show how we can continue to work together to address our economy. The Railroad Commission will have a good tool, a good arrow in their quiver,” Keffer added, while speaking on a panel of a Railroad Commission Texas Natural Gas Workshop hosted by Railroad Commissioner David Porter.  

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By Polly Ross Hughes

March 24, 2015

TIPRO, TXOGA praise Senate panel as SB 1165 moves to the floor

Bill asserts state’s exclusive jurisdiction on oil, gas development

The Senate Natural Resources & Economic Development Committee, as expected, unanimously approved SB 1165 Tuesday, which asserts the state’s preemptive right to regulate oil and gas development.

Committee chairman Sen. Troy Fraser, R-Horseshoe Bay, said during today’s hearing that he was open to negotiations on the bill to see if a compromise is possible with city governments who fear the bill could wipe out current oil and gas ordinances that have worked well. Fraser told committee member Sen. Judith Zaffirini, D-Laredo, that he would be addressing changes as Senate amendments during floor debate.

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By Polly Ross Hughes

March 24, 2015

Urban drilling, Day 2: Sen. Fraser wants to vote out bill

Cities opposed to bill hold out hope for compromise

Sen. Troy Fraser, R-Horseshoe Bay, said this morning that he would like to vote out his SB 1165 – which attempts to spell out powers of the state versus local governments when regulating urban drilling – after taking testimony this afternoon from another 25 witnesses.

Despite apparently putting the controversial bill on a legislative fast track, Fraser, chairman of the Senate Natural Resources & Economic Development Committee, indicated he is willing to sit down with opponents of the bill to try to work out a compromise.  

His committee heard from oil and gas operators and royalty owners groups this morning who support the bill, saying it would add more business certainty and protect mineral property rights. The bill essentially says the state has the preemptive right to regulate oil and gas activity beneath the surface while cities could regulate such things as noise, light, traffic patterns and well sites – provided municipal ordinances meet the test of being “commercially reasonable” in the eyes of a prudent operator.

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By Polly Ross Hughes

March 24, 2015

Local officials warily weigh in on urban drilling bill

Lawmakers insist intent is not to strip all power from cities

Skeptical local officials and citizens poured into a House Energy Resources Committee hearing Monday, fearful that vague language in proposed legislation could strip local control over urban drilling and give the oil and gas industry the upper hand.

Committee chairman and HB 40 author Rep. Drew Darby, R-San Angelo, repeatedly insisted that the intent of his bill is not to unfairly tie the hands of local governments but rather to strike a balance between the state’s “preemptive” regulatory authority over subsurface activities versus local authority over traditional issues such as noise, nuisance, traffic and – even – the more contentious issue of well sites.

But, as one doubter told the committee, the hearing room wouldn’t have been filled with so many city attorneys, councilmembers and even a few mayors if the bill’s language spelled such assurances out upfront and in clear wording.  

By the time the nine-hour meeting ended just three minutes past midnight, the committee had heard testimony from 160 people, and 296 had registered their interest – for, against or neutral – on Darby’s HB 40 and Rep. Phil King’s HB 539. Most witnesses testified on Darby’s bill, which attempts to delineate where the state’s authority begins ad where local authority ends. King’s bill, which would require towns and cities to reimburse the state for lost oil and gas tax revenue their ordinances may cause, is largely seen as a backup measure to Darby’s.

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By Polly Ross Hughes

March 23, 2015

Oil, gas lobby releases video decrying ‘extreme setbacks’

Cities planning to fight back at hearings starting today

If there were any doubt that the fight in the House Energy Resources Committee this afternoon is about drilling setbacks from homes rather than bans on hydraulic fracturing (fracking), check out the video released this morning by the Texas Oil & Gas Association.

TXOGA’s video – “The Facts on Overreaching Bans and Predatory Ordinances” – points out that the oil and gas industry fuels 40 percent of the state economy and is the economic engine driving the job-creating “Texas Miracle” (at least, when oil prices are double what they are now.)

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By Polly Ross Hughes

March 20, 2015

Texas wind farm to power 350 Walmart stores, Sam’s Clubs and more

Akuo Energy USA signs 12-year deal with world’s largest retailer

Wal-Mart signed a 12-year power purchase deal this week with Akuo Energy USA for 50 megawatts (MW) of Texas wind energy from the Rocksprings Wind Farm near Del Rio.

The wind farm, when completed in the third quarter of 2016, will produce enough renewable energy to power approximately 57,000 homes, said the company, a subsidiary of Akuo Energy SAS, France’s leading independent renewable power producer.

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By Polly Ross Hughes

March 20, 2015

Venari Resources is high bidder on 12 deepwater blocks

Dallas company expands Gulf of Mexico resources

Dallas-based Venari Resources LLC, a privately held offshore exploration and production company, said Friday it was the high bidder on 12 deepwater blocks in the Central Gulf of Mexico.

Venari said it was successful in 12 of 13 total bids, bidding with subsidiaries of Chevron Corp. and separately with subsidiaries of Anadarko Petroleum Corp., at the offshore lease sale held Thursday by the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management in New Orleans.

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By Polly Ross Hughes

March 19, 2015

Todd Staples: Local control bills won’t wipe out drilling setbacks

Cities disagree, brace for tough battle against powerful lobby

City leaders and the state’s powerful oil industry are set to clash next week over whether proposed legislation would prevent local governments from regulating how far oil and gas operations must be from homes, schools, hospitals and nursing homes.  

The Texas Oil & Gas Association (TXOGA), the industry’s largest and most powerful lobbying group, plans to argue for passage of HB 40 and the identical companion SB 1165, which spell out what authority cities do or don’t have when it comes to urban drilling.

A big hint of the industry’s clout are the bills’ authors who will be chairing back-to-back hearings on the bills Monday and Tuesday – Rep. Drew Darby, chairman of the House Energy Resources Committee, and Sen. Troy Fraser, chairman of the Senate Natural Resources & Economic Development Committee.

TXOGA President Todd Staples, in an interview with Texas Energy Report, insisted Thursday that the Texas Municipal League (TML) is blowing things out of proportion by suggesting the bills would prevent and essentially revoke city ordinances regulating setbacks or buffer zones between drilling operations and homes, hospitals or schools.

TML Executive Director Bennett Sandlin says that’s just plain, flat wrong.

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By Polly Ross Hughes

March 18, 2015

PEC board opposes Dale bills as ‘undemocratic interference’

Legislation would change at-large board elections to single-districts

The Pedernales Electric Cooperative board voted yesterday to oppose House Bill 3391 and House Bill 3451 by Rep. Tony Dale, R-Cedar Park, which mandate how PEC’s board members are elected.

The legislation constitutes “unprecedented, undemocratic and unwarranted governmental interference and overreach” into a member-owned cooperative corporation, the board said in a resolution. The resolution also notes that the bills “unfairly discriminate” because they singularly target board members of the PEC.

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By Polly Ross Hughes

March 18, 2015

SunEdison lands 25-year contract to provide 150 MW to Georgetown

City says cost and water savings behind decision for 100% renewables

SunEdison Inc. said Wednesday it plans to construct West Texas solar plants to supply the City of Georgetown with 150 megawatts of solar energy via a 25-year contract.

The announcement follows the City of Georgetown unveiling plans this week to power the entire city with 100 percent renewable energy using solar power and existing wind power.  

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By Polly Ross Hughes

March 18, 2015

Oil woes: Texas may trail national job growth for 1st time in 12 years

Dallas Fed revises state’s expected job growth downward

Chances are good that Texas could trail the nation’s job growth for the first time 12 years as oil prices slide, the dollar strengthens and labor markets tighten, the Federal Reserve Bank of Dallas forecasts.

Economists at the Dallas Fed see overall job growth slowing between one and two percent this year, from the robust 3.4 percent last year.  

The oil and gas industry’s contribution to the dimming state economic outlook appears in three separate articles in the Dallas Fed’s latest issue of Southwest Economy.

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By Polly Ross Hughes

March 17, 2015

Fraser: ‘Mission accomplished’ on renewable energy policy

If transmission counts as subsidies, so do highways, says wind advocate

Tough new rules to slash climate-changing carbon emissions might be just beyond the horizon, but a key state senator wants to slam the brakes on a program encouraging Texas renewable energy development.

Senate Natural Resources & Economic Development Committee Chairman Troy Fraser, R-Horseshoe Bay, said he’s declaring, “mission accomplished” on state renewable energy goals surpassed long ago, along with special CREZ transmission lines that carry West Texas wind power to the state’s biggest cities.

Fraser’s SB 931 would end the state’s Renewable Portfolio Standard, which set a renewable power generation goal of 5,880 megawatts (MW) by 2015, and turn a program for trading renewable energy credits from mandatory to volunteer status.

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By Polly Ross Hughes

March 13, 2015

Watson, Turner file demand response bills empowering consumers

If adopted, backers say, electricity costs go down along with emissions

Democrats filed legislation this week to give consumers more say in the state’s competitive electric market and reap rewards for cutting their electric demand during times of high prices or shortages.

Senate Bill 1284 by Sen. Kirk Watson, D-Austin, and House Bill 3343 by Rep. Sylvester Turner, D-Houston, could lead to greater competition, better reliability and lower electric bills, according to backers.

“We’re giving customers more control over their electricity bill and offering a free-market solution to a critical problem by reducing the demand for electricity when the supply is tight,” Watson said in a statement announcing the bills on the last day of bill filing.  

“Texas has a lot of untapped potential in this area, and I’m hopeful SB 1284 will help draw attention to the benefits of demand response,” he added.

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By Polly Ross Hughes