Just a few weeks after Denton failed to pass a ban on fracking, the Texas Railroad Commission is proposing tighter regulation on oil and natural gas drilling in response to the north Texas earthquakes.
At its monthly meeting yesterday, the commission accepted a new set of rule proposals regarding regulation of injection wells. Among the rule changes, drillers seeking new permits would have to provide a history of seismic activity in the area they would propose to drill. The Commission could deny a permit if there is a history of seismic activity, or terminate a permit if seismic activity begins to occur.
North Texas has seen a flurry of seismic activity in the last several months, attributed mostly to the wells used by drillers to dispose of spent fracking water. The move could provide momentum for local fracking limits in the future, especially when the proposed Denton ban comes to a vote in November. It is also a possible sign of increased state support for fracking limitations. The changes will be open to public commentary until September 29, and will then by voted on by the commission.
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But while local anti-fracking activists say that this latest move is a step in the right direction, there's much more to be done. Adam Briggle is one of the leaders of the Denton anti-fracking movement. He is a UNT philosophy professor and president of the Denton Drilling Awareness Group.
"Well, it is certainly good to see improvements on these points," Briggle wrote in an email. "But they are not going to touch our basic problem: We have a heavy industry (that is not required to submit an emissions inventory or disclose all the chemicals they put into the environment) operating within 200 feet of homes. It just does not make any sense from a land use and community integrity perspective"
Most critics are in agreement that the gesture is a small one. Cyrus Reed, of the Lone Star Sierra Club, told the Fort Worth Star-Telegram that this move is good but lacking the foundation of more comprehensive reform. "I wish they had done this several years ago," he said. "This proposal is a good first step, but there are additional protections that should be in place."
For his part, Briggle agrees the last rule changes are a band-aid for the larger problem of municipality drilling. "These rules won't change that and I don't think any RRC rules will, because they do not concern themselves with surface impacts," he said. "The question of where fracking can occur should be one that is settled by local communities."