Texas House approves bill that limits city bans on fracking

By Marice Richter DALLAS (Reuters) - A bill that would stop Texas cities from enacting their own bans on hydraulic fracturing in the nation's top crude oil and natural gas producing state was approved on Friday in the state House of Representatives. The bill bars cities from overly regulating the industry, targeting a ban on fracking, a method of extracting oil and gas that uses high pressure, adopted by voters in Denton, Texas, a college town about 30 miles (50 km) north of Dallas. Representatives voted 122-18 to advance the bill. The Texas Senate has yet to vote on a similar bill. The bill, which had more than 70 co-sponsors, is one of several introduced in response to Denton's ban and moves by other cities to impose drilling and fracking restrictions the industry sees as overly burdensome and costly. Denton sits atop the gas-rich Barnett Shale formation that stretches across 24 North Texas counties. The industry's Texas Oil & Gas Association sued Denton, a city of 123,000 residents, hours after voters approved their ban. "HB 40 is a welcome solution because Texas can't afford a patchwork of regulations for an industry that supports 40 percent of our economy," the association tweeted after the vote. Opponents of the bill said it would transfer local control over operations to state oversight and jeopardize public safety by permitting oil and gas drilling closer to homes and schools. In some circumstances, cities would retain regulatory control over traffic, noise and emergency response under changes negotiated in committee. Environmentalists and Denton residents oppose the measure. Texas Campaign for the Environment said on Friday that the bill would erase hundreds of local protections of health, safety, and quality of life across Texas. "It is a carte blanche for all sorts of heavy industries associated with energy production, including disposal, transport and processing," Executive Director Robin Schneider said in a statement. Ballot measures in other parts of the nation had mixed results. In Ohio, bans were rejected in three cities and approved in one. Two bans were approved in two California counties and one failed. (Reporting by Marice Richter; Editing by David Bailey and Doina Chiacu)