State Rep.: Barnett Shale Legislation Won't Take All the Pipelines Out of Neighborhoods

This week, the first major pieces Barnett Shale legislation passed the Texas Senate, allowing gas companies to place pipelines on state highways and highway rights-of-way. FWCanDo, the group of Fort Worth residents that's been protesting gas pipelines in their neighborhoods, hopes this will mean fewer pipelines in residential areas and more along the highways. But Don Young, the group's founder, says his experience with the gas companies operating in the area makes him think "they will still try to take the easiest, cheapest way out."

Still, Young calls Senate Bill 686 a step in the right direction. "It will keep people safe ... safer," he corrected himself in a phone interview Wednesday with Unfair Park. In effect, the bill casts private gas companies in a civic light, designating them as "common carriers," the legal term used for organizations that transport people, goods or services for the "public convenience and necessity." Getting TxDOT to put a gas company in the same category as the public utilities (trains, buses, communications companies) meant getting the gas companies to promise that if they decided to pull out their pipelines, they'd pay for the restoration of the highway.

But it raises a bigger question: Does a private gas company truly represent the public good?

According to the Texas Senate, yes. This Tuesday, senators voted unanimously to approve S.B. 686. (The Senate also passed another of Davis' Barnett Shale bills, S.B. 752, aimed at regulating disposal of contaminated wastewater from drilling operations.) According to state Rep. Rob Orr (R-Burleson), who authored the bill's companion version, it should go to the House floor within a week or two.

"I'll be the first one [to admit] this is not a cure-all," Orr tells Unfair Park. "There are going to be pipelines in neighborhoods; you can't put every pipeline out in the right-of-way. So it's really a way of just being more efficient, trying to use again the right-of-ways that we already have."

State Sen. Wendy Davis (D-Fort Worth), who authored S.B. 686, says the bill arose out of "some pretty heated battles" between Fort Worth residents and gas companies.

"Pipeline companies really didn't have the right of way alternatives for pipeline placement that they needed to have," Davis explains. "As a consequence, they looked for private placements. As you can imagine, when you're seeking the ability to place a pipeline under someone's front yard, there can be a great deal of concern by the homeowner or business owner," she said.

Davis hopes the added option of highways and rights-of-way will take pressure off both residents and oil and gas producers. Both of Davis' bills are pending passage in the Texas House of Representatives.

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