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April 20, 2015

TER: House grants HB 40 final passage, 125-20.

Bill gives Texas Railroad Commission, not cities, right to regulate subsurface oil, gas operations

By Polly Ross Hughes


April 17, 2015

Mighty Texas oil and gas industry prevails in HB 40

Critics predict cities could be stripped of rights to protect residents from hazards of urban oil and gas operations

The Texas oil and gas industry flexed its bulging biceps today as its friends in the Legislature fended off every attempt to preserve city regulatory powers over urban drilling operations that could be stripped away by House Bill 40.

The power of argument in favor of protecting churches, schools, nursing homes, parks, homeowners and even coastal Texans in the line of deadly hurricanes proved no match for the industry’s tough new bill asserting the primacy of its favorite state agency – the Texas Railroad Commission – to preempt local ordinances.

Rep. Drew Darby, R-San Angelo, the chairman of the House Energy Resources Committee, and the former chairman of that committee Rep. Jim Keffer, R-Eastland, often worked in tandem during a three-hour debate to hold the controversial bill intact against 10 attempts by Democrats to amend it.

And, they succeeded in keeping to a compromise reached between Darby, the Texas Oil & Gas Association (TXOGA) and the Texas Municipal League (TML). It states that the Railroad Commission and Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ) have the rights to preempt any local ordinance – such as requiring special safety valves on wells in the line of hurricanes – that applies to operations beneath the surface.

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By Polly Ross Hughes


April 17, 2015

Urban drilling bill, HB 40, sails to House preliminary passage, 122-18 Darby keeps promise to fend off all 10 amendments to protect city powers

By Polly Ross Hughes


April 17, 2015

EDF’s Anderson: HB 40 could cost lives

Urban fracking bill “will lead to recriminations, embarrassment . . . outright loss of life and damage to property”

Scott Anderson of Environmental Defense Fund last night made public a letter he wrote to Corpus Christi Mayor Nelda Martinez in which he warns of dire consequences – including lost lives – if the urban drilling bill, HB 40, passes in its current form.

The bill by Rep. Drew Darby, R-San Angelo, chairman of the House Energy Resources Committee, is set for floor debate today in the Texas House. It says state regulation preempts local regulations over urban oil and gas operations, such as drilling and hydraulic fracturing, that are conducted below the surface.

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By Polly Ross Hughes


April 16, 2015

Senate approves Fraser’s SB 709 on environmental permits

Critics say bill limits public’s rights to contest harm of major industrial plants

Thursday the Texas Senate approved, 22-9, an environmental permitting bill enthusiastically embraced by energy concerns but decried by critics who say it unfairly tips the balance against individuals facing harm to their health and property.

Senate Natural Resources Committee Chairman Troy Fraser, R-Horseshoe Bay, said his SB 709 brings regulatory certainty to contested cases involving major environmental permits, replacing a system that has cost Texas large industrial and petrochemical projects.

“Texas every year competes with other Gulf Coast states for major economic investment. As of today, we’re at a serious disadvantage because of the length of time it takes to get a permit for any major environmental project,” Fraser said, opening debate on the bill.

Shintech Inc., the world’s largest manufacturer of PVC resins, decided against locating a plant worth “hundreds of millions” of dollars in Texas, citing its uncertain regulatory environment as a paramount reason, Fraser noted.   

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By Polly Ross Hughes


April 14, 2015

Senate approves bill repealing CREZ, renewable energy goals

Critics say SB 931 alarms wind investors, removes tool for climate change challenge

This story has been corrected to note, "Texas leads the nation with 14,000 MW of wind, a $28 billion investment spread over 57 counties, Clark noted. That leaves another $14 billion investment adding 7,000 megawatts (MW) of wind generation currently under construction, mostly in West Texas and the Panhandle." The original story incorrectly reported that the dollar amounts were in the millions, not the billions.

A bill repealing a 16-year-old law credited with turning Texas into the nation’s No. 1 wind energy producer – particularly with the build up of transmission lines in so-called Competitive Energy Renewable Energy Zones (CREZ) –passed the Texas Senate Tuesday on a final vote of 21-10.

SB 931 by Sen. Troy Fraser, R-Horseshoe Bay, declares Texas renewable energy goals as a mission accomplished.  Along with eliminating renewable energy goals in the form of renewable portfolio standards, it also prohibits the PUC from establishing any new CREZ transmission zones after Jan. 1, 2015.  

The bill makes an exception for a $130 million Panhandle project to add a second circuit to a single circuit line as certified by the Electric Reliability Council of Texas (ERCOT) by May 1, 2014.

Environmentalists and other renewable advocates said the Senate’s action is a step backward, removing a tool Texas will need to more easily meet federal climate change requirements that are expected to be finalized this summer.  

They also complain it sends the wrong message to investors.

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By Polly Ross Hughes


April 14, 2015

Darby: HB 40 should be back on the floor for debate Friday

Opponents hint that more efforts ahead to derail urban fracking bill

House Bill 40 author Rep. Drew Darby, R-Angelo, said his House Energy Resources Committee is meeting in the Agriculture Museum to send the urban drilling and fracking bill back to the House, where it could be debated by Friday.

Darby told Texas Energy Report he agreed to send the bill back to committee based on a procedural objection by Rep. Trey Martinez Fischer, D-San Antonio, because it was clear it would be upheld.

The objection also applied to an open carry bill, that had been scheduled for floor debate, which Darby said would also be recommitted. Both bills were the subject of computer-generated change of position reports, he noted.

Other bills facing the same problem will simply undergo a technical fix, he said.

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By Polly Ross Hughes


April 14, 2015

Urban drilling bill is pulled down in the Texas House

Bill goes back to committee following a point of order; a software problem caused discrepancies in the committee report

House Bill 40, the controversial urban fracking bill that several cities oppose, has been recommitted back to the Texas House Energy Resources Committee on a point of order by Rep. Trey Martinez Fischer, D-San Antonio, the House clerk confirms. More details to follow.

By Polly Ross Hughes


April 13, 2015

EDF to TXOGA: Drop lawsuit against first responder fee

Arlington fracking accident Saturday shows why industry should stop fight against first responder fee, city controls, EDF says

The Environmental Defense Fund (EDF), noting a weekend natural gas well emergency that forced evacuation of nearby residents until Sunday afternoon, asked the state’s largest oil and gas lobby Monday to drop its lawsuit against the City of Arlington’s fee to train first responders in oil and gas accidents.

“In light of the uncontrolled well that over the weekend forced evacuation of citizens in the heart of Arlington, Texas, I urge you to consider dropping the TXOGA (Texas Oil & Gas Association) lawsuit against fees needed to fund the city’s firefighting efforts,” said a letter dated April 12 to TXOGA President Todd Staples from EDF Regional Director (Texas Office) Jim Marston.

“The modest, $2,400 per-well fee enables hiring and training firefighters to respond to oil and gas emergencies of the exact sort that occurred Saturday and continued for 24 hours. I am sure many people would find continued opposition by TXOGA to this fee to be callous. It is only natural to fear that the TXOGA lawsuit puts the health, safety and lives of Texans at risk,” Marston’s letter continued.

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By Polly Ross Hughes


April 13, 2015

Environmentalists wage battle on industry-friendly HB 40

Protestors point to Arlington fracking accident, plan all-night Capitol vigil

Environmental groups, armed with news of a fracking fluid leak at a natural gas well in southwest Arlington, are mounting an aggressive protest campaign today against HB 40, set for House floor debate on Tuesday.

The Texas Oil & Gas Association (TXOGA) drafted the original bill by House Energy Resources Committee Chairman Drew Darby, R-San Angelo, which would remove the ability of local governments to set limits and regulate subsurface oil and gas operations, including hydraulic fracturing (fracking for short).  

Arlington residents evacuated about 50 homes near the scene Saturday after Vantage Energy called 911 to report that natural gas had pushed pressurized fracking fluid out of the well shortly after a crew had begun fracking the well, the Dallas Morning News reported. Residents returned after the well was successfully plugged at 2:45 p.m. Sunday.

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By Polly Ross Hughes


April 10, 2015

Get on down the road, OPEC!

Breitling CEO envisions N. America setting oil prices again

Imagine a world where the power of setting oil prices shifts from the Middle East and back to North America.

That’s what the Dallas-based Brietling Energy Corp. Chairman and Chief Executive Officer Chris Faulkner is doing.  

An outspoken advocate for hydraulic fracturing and the shale oil and gas revolution, Faulkner released statements this morning saying he’s envisioning an alliance of the United States, Canada and Mexico that could form a coalition to seize oil price-setting control away from OPEC.  

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By Polly Ross Hughes


April 10, 2015

Senate okays bill boosting rights of private property owners

Lowball offers of pipelines, others could force paying attorneys fees

Private landowners gained a bit more bargaining power when power companies or pipelines use eminent domain law to seize their land under a bill passed by the Texas Senate Thursday, 25-6.

SB 474 by Sen. Lois Kolkhorst, R-Brenham, requires that pipelines, power companies, transit authorities and other entities with the power to condemn land for public use don’t submit offers below market value simply because landowners can’t afford to mount court challenges.

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By Polly Ross Hughes


April 10, 2015

Natural gas fleet conversion bill passes Texas Senate

Changes require more oversight, priority for state’s most polluted areas

A bill to expand the Texas market for natural gas as a transportation fuel, help the environment and save taxpayers money passed the Texas Senate Thursday, 28-2.

SB 12 by Rep. Carlos Uresti, D-San Antonio, was announced with great fanfare early this session with Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick backing its 10-year plan to tap Texas Emissions Reduction Plan (TERP) funds for about $30 million annually so state-owned vehicle fleets could convert to natural gas, electricity or other alternatives to traditional fuels that contribute to climate change.

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By Polly Ross Hughes


April 8, 2015

Austin Energy seeks proposals for up to 600 MW of solar

Central Texas munis and co-ops pioneer renewable energy in state

Austin Energy said Wednesday it’s seeking proposals for up to 600 megawatts (MW) of solar generation, including options for direct ownership or power purchase agreements.

The municipal utility for the City of Austin said acquiring up to 600 MW of utility-scale solar is a big part of its recently adopted Resource, Generation and Climate Protection Plan to 2025.

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By Polly Ross Hughes


April 8, 2015

Goldman Sachs analyst also notes big ripple from oil job losses

One job lost in oil, gas fields means up to four more jobs lost elsewhere

In yet another reminder that Texas has yet to feel the biggest job losses from slumping oil prices, Steve Goldstein in MarketWatch noted today that a job loss in the oil and gas fields translates to three or four more elsewhere.

The multiplier effect, mentioned as well in an economic analysis earlier this year by the economist Karr Ingham at the Texas Alliance of Energy Producers, has also showed up in research conducted by Goldman Sach’s Alec Phillips.

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By Polly Ross Hughes


April 7, 2015

Urban drilling: Will Railroad Commission regulate if cities can’t?

EDF petitions RRC to protect city dwellers if HB 40 becomes law

If passage of HB 40 hampers or kills local oil and gas ordinances, the Texas Railroad Commission should make rules at the state level to replace the protections, contend three petitions filed with the commission Tuesday by the Environmental Defense Fund.

The bill, by House Energy Resources Committee Chairman Drew Darby, R-San Angelo, could threaten hundreds of existing local ordinances regulating public health, safety and property from oil and gas development, EDF contends, but the RRC has no comparable rules to take their place.

The bill passed out of Darby’s committee on March 30 after the committee chairman helped broker an agreement between the Texas Oil & Gas Association (TXOGA), which seeks to roll back local control of oil and gas operations, and the Texas Municipal League, which has focused on preserving distance setbacks between wells and homes, schools and hospitals.

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By Polly Ross Hughes