Texas Greens Capitalize on Arlington Fracking Incident, Omit Facts Entirely
This past weekend, an incident at a natural gas well in Arlington, Tex., occurred after a component of the wellhead system malfunctioned. Predictably, critics of oil and gas drilling in Texas leapt into action, using the evacuation of local residents as a political tool in their advocacy efforts. More specifically, the groups are using the incident as a reason to drive opposition to CSHB 40 and SB 1165 – even though there is nothing in the legislation to prevent the activities that brought the Arlington well under control.
The Sierra Club wrote that the Arlington event “is exactly why we shouldn’t be undermining cities, counties and local fire departments by taking away their ability to safeguard against oil and gas industry activities.” Texas Campaign for the Environment tweeted that the event occurred “days before #HB40 vote do [sic] diminish #localcontrol.” Even the Environmental Defense Fund issued a release: “If HB 40 were to pass as currently written, it would be even harder to protect citizens against dangerous situations like the one in Arlington.” Activists at Earthworks also capitalized on the incident.
But had these groups (and some in the media) actually taken the time to read the legislation they’re attacking, they would have discovered that it states:
[A] municipality may enact, amend, or enforce an ordinance or other measure that:
(1) regulates only aboveground activity related to an oil and gas operation that occurs at or above the surface of the ground, including a regulation governing fire and emergency response, traffic, lights, or noise, or imposing notice or reasonable setback requirements;
(2) is commercially reasonable;
(3) does not effectively prohibit an oil and gas operation conducted by a reasonably prudent operator; and
(4) is not otherwise preempted by state or federal law. (emphasis added)
After the Arlington event occurred, specialists at Boots & Coots were called in to assess the situation and get the well under control. The operator also worked with the Arlington Fire Department (which was contacted immediately) and the Arlington Police Department to help manage traffic and the precautionary limited evacuation. Many city ordinances, including the one in Arlington, require that operators have well control specialists (such as Boots & Coots) at the ready to address incidents should they arise.
Within 24 hours, the malfunctioning wellhead component was replaced, and the evacuation was lifted.
The evacuation was only precautionary, since no gas escaped. The City of Arlington’s authority to manage traffic and the rest of the evacuation is explicitly retained in the legislation. Similarly, the ability of specialists such as Boots & Coots to get the well under control is also unchanged.
In other words, the response would have been exactly the same if the legislation had already been passed into law. The actions from Boots & Coots to address the situation on site, as well as the collaboration with first responders, are all part of the textbook response to an incident – and will remain so if the companion bills in the legislature are passed into law.
It’s unfortunate that activists in Texas have attempted to capitalize on an incident to score political points. But considering how several groups have been using “local control” as a deceptive messaging vehicle to ban drilling in Texas, this latest stunt to mislead the public is not exactly surprising.