Oklahoma House passes legislation prohibiting cities from regulating oil and gas drilling

Energy Associated Press

Legislation that prohibits cities and towns from regulating oil and natural gas drilling operations was approved by the House on Wednesday, one day after the Oklahoma Geological Survey said it is "very likely" that a swarm of recent earthquakes were triggered by the subsurface injection of wastewater from drilling operations.

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House members passed the bill despite pleas from opponents who said the survey's report is among many reasons that local communities should have the right to set rules for local drilling activities.

"It's about a municipality being able to regulate themselves," said Rep. Cory Williams, D-Stillwater.

House Democratic Leader Scott Inman of Del City warned that passing the measure would send a message to citizens that lawmakers are unwilling to allow local officials to address the problems associated with drilling operations, including the recent earthquakes.

"The folks pushing this bill are the ones causing these earthquakes in our communities," said Inman, who said his suburban Oklahoma City house has cracks in the floors and ceiling that are uncharacteristic for a structure that is only nine years old.

"My house shakes today. I know that I'm not the only one," Inman said. "The big one is coming. It's not a matter of if, it's a question of when."

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House members voted 64-32 for the bill by Republican House Speaker Jeff Hickman of Fairview and sent it to the Senate to consider House amendments, including one that allows local regulations involving floodplains to reduce local flooding risks to remain in compliance with National Flood Insurance Program regulations.

Oil and gas drilling operations in the state are regulated by the Oklahoma Corporation Commission. The bill, which is similar to a measure passed last month by the House, prohibits communities from regulating oil and gas exploration, drilling, production and hydraulic fracturing — or fracking — activities that are part of the Corporation Commission's authority.

The measure permits local communities to adopt "reasonable ordinances, rules and regulations" concerning road use, traffic, noise and odors incidental to oil and gas operations as well as the placement of drilling rigs and fencing requirements for oil and gas well site locations.

The bill is among several filed this year to limit local regulations in the wake of a ban on fracking that voters in the north Texas city of Denton overwhelmingly approved in November.

Republican House Speaker Jeff Hickman, the bill's House author, said local regulations involving oil and gas drilling have created a patchwork of guidelines that are difficult for oil and gas operators to follow. He said the measure still gives local communities authority to adopt drilling-related ordinances "to protect the health, safety and welfare of its citizens."

Senate President Pro Tem Brian Bingman, R-Sapulpa, said he believes it will pass the Senate and be sent to the governor.

Bingman, an executive with a Tulsa-based oil and gas exploration company, said the Corporation Commission has exclusive jurisdiction over oil and gas matters and it is monitoring earthquake activity in the state.

"Yes, the Corporation Commission can shut down those wells, and I've got the confidence that they'll do what they have to do and the industry, certainly, will cooperate," Bingman said. "They'll work together to try and resolve and mitigate the situation."

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Online:

House Bill 809: http://bit.ly/1HmkHhg