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Texas house committee on energy resources approves bill to preempt local fracking bans

Denton, Texas garnered national attention when it enacted a local measure banning hydraulic fracturing within the city limits. At the time, many spectators suggested that the measure would be short-lived because of legal challenges in the court system and potential legislation from the Texas Legislature. Soon after the enactment of the ban, several members of the Texas Legislature proposed bills aimed at restricting the ability of local governments to enact anti-fracking bills similar to the measure adopted by the city of Denton. One of those bills—H.B. 40—took one step closer to being passed this week.

On Monday, the Texas House … Continue Reading

Texas Legislature considers incentives for use of alternative fracking fluids

The Texas Legislature is currently considering several bills related to hydraulic fracturing and the oil and gas industry in general. Last Friday, March 13th, two additional bills were proposed in the Texas Legislature that would incentivize the use of alternative fracking fluids. The bills—H.B. 4035 and H.B. 4021—were introduced by Representative Drew Darby and Representative Abel Herrero, respectively.

H.B. 4035 proposes to establish a tax credit for oil and gas operators that use a “no water production technique” in their drilling operations. An operator utilizes a “no water production technique” if the operator “uses nitrogen, carbon dioxide, or fluids other … Continue Reading

Texas Legislature considers bills to restrict local regulation of oil and gas activities

Soon after Denton, Texas enacted its hydraulic fracturing ban, many commentators suggested that the Texas Legislature may enact legislation targeted at restricting the ability of local governments to adopt anti-fracking measures. It appears that this prediction was accurate. On March 13th, members of the Texas Legislature introduced two bills aimed at limiting the authority of local governments with respect to oil and gas regulation.
One of the bills—S.B. 1806— proposes to invalidate any local ordinance that conflicts with state law. The other bill—S.B. 1673—also proposes to nullify any local measure that conflicts with state law. In … Continue Reading

Texas Supreme Court refrains from deciding subsurface trespass issue

Earlier this month, the Texas Supreme Court issued its decision in Envt’l Processing Sys., L.C. v. FPL Farming Ltd. The case garnered a significant amount of attention from the oil and gas industry because it involved the issue of whether a party can sue for trespass over the subsurface migration of wastewater. Indeed, a number of amicus briefs were filed on this issue. The Supreme Court refrained from ruling on that issue, however.
This case arises from a dispute between two neighbors. FPL Farming, Ltd. (FPL) owned the groundwater rights to its tract of land but not the mineral … Continue Reading

Mineral rights owners’ suit against Denton to remain in federal court

To say that the city of Denton, Texas is embroiled in litigation concerning its drilling ban would be an understatement. The city is currently facing two lawsuits challenging the validity of the recently enacted ban against hydraulic fracturing, one suit filed by the Texas Oil and Gas Association and the other suit filed by the Texas General Land Office.

Although those lawsuits have garnered the majority of attention from onlookers, Denton is also facing another suit regarding a fracking moratorium adopted by the city while it debated enacting an actual ban.

On September 12, 2014, several mineral rights owners sued … Continue Reading

Another local fracking ban invalidated

Throughout the country, supporters and opponents of local fracking bans have engaged in a fierce debate over the legality of such legislation. Indeed, suits have been filed in California, Colorado, New York, Texas, and West Virginia to challenge anti-fracking measures enacted by localities. The majority of courts to consider the legality of these local ordinances have held that the anti-fracking measures are invalid. Yet another court has reached the same conclusion. In this latest case, the United States District Court for the District of New Mexico invalidated a fracking ban enacted by Mora County.

In 2013, Mora County adopted an … Continue Reading

Methane emissions from fracking on the decline

Anti-fracking groups have been clamoring over the negative impact fracking has on the environment. One of the primary arguments raised by these groups is that fracking leads to high methane emissions. A newly released study suggests that anti-fracking groups may need to find a new argument against fracking.

The Cockrell School of Engineering at the University of Texas (UT) released a study, finding that methane emissions from natural gas production have decreased. The study also found that the majority of methane emissions come from a small group of natural gas wells and associated equipment. Therefore, most oil and gas operators … Continue Reading

Environmental groups seek to defend Denton fracking ban

Soon after the city of Denton passed a prohibition on fracking earlier this year, the city was sued by several parties alleging that the fracking ban was invalid. It appears that the city of Denton may have some support in its defense of the fracking ban. On December 4th, Earthwork and the Denton Drilling Awareness Group (DDAG) filed a petition to intervene in the state of Texas’s lawsuit challenging the ban.

In support of their request to intervene, Earthwork and DDAG argued that they would have been able to successfully defend the fracking prohibition if the suit had been filed … Continue Reading

Fracking bans may thrust California localities into contentious legal battle

On November 4th, Denton became the first city in Texas to enact a ban against hydraulic fracturing. The next day, several members of the oil and gas industry and the state of Texas sued Denton, alleging that the ban was invalid. It is possible that other parties are also planning on suing Denton over the fracking ban. Mendocino and San Benito counties may be following in Denton’s footsteps.

Mendocino and San Benito counties passed legislation on November 4th prohibiting hydraulic fracturing. A fracking ban was on the ballot in Santa Barbara county, but the ban was defeated. Observers have noted … Continue Reading

The Texas General Land Office sues Denton to stop enforcement of fracking ban

On November 4th, the majority of Denton residents voted in favor of a proposed ban on hydraulic fracturing, thereby making it the first Texas city to adopt such a measure. As many observers predicted, the ban has sparked legal challenges. The morning after the election, the Texas General Land Office (GLO) filed a motion for a permanent injunction against the enactment of the ban.

In the motion, the GLO emphasized that the ramifications of the Denton fracking ban will be felt throughout Texas. The Texas Constitution created the Permanent School Fund (PSF) to provide funding to Texas public schools. … Continue Reading

The Texas Railroad Commission enacts new rules governing disposal wells

On Tuesday, the Texas Railroad Commission (Commission) adopted several amendments to the current rules governing disposal wells. The Commission circulated an earlier version of the amendments in August; however, the Commission made slight variations to the amendments based on several comments it received during the public comment period. The revised amendments are set to become effective on November 17th.

Under the amendments, an applicant for a disposal well must examine the United States Geological Survey seismic database to determine if earthquakes have occurred in the vicinity of the drilling location. In addition, the Commission is now authorized to change, cancel, … Continue Reading

Fracking dominates the November ballot

One of the most highly debated issues during the November election was the question of whether localities have the authority to enact fracking bans. Several cities throughout the country have attempted to enact prohibitions against hydraulic fracturing with varying degrees of success. Denton, Texas has become one of the latest cities to consider such a ban.

On November 4th, Denton residents voted on whether the city should enact a ban against hydraulic fracturing within the city limits. The measure passed with 59 percent of Denton residents voting in favor of the measure and 41 percent voting against it. The Denton … Continue Reading

Oklahoma orders shut down of disposal well after multiple earthquakes

The Oklahoma Corporation Commission (Commission) ordered the temporary shut down of a disposal well near Cushing. Cushing has reported several earthquakes in October. Two earthquakes with a 3.2 and 4.0 magnitude, respectively, occurred on October 7th, and a 4.3 magnitude earthquake occurred three days later. There was also a 2.7 magnitude earthquake later in the month. Despite these events, no major damage has been reported.

Officials caution, however, that people should not draw any correlation between the well and the recent earthquakes afflicting the nearby area. The well may simply have been drilled too deep. The commission stated that operators … Continue Reading

Fracking goes to the ballot: Multiple venues to vote on hydraulic fracturing bans tomorrow

Recently, the debate over hydraulic fracturing has centered on whether localities have the authority to enact fracking bans. As one commentator described, courts are confronted with “the right of home rule versus the authority of the state to regulate natural resource development.”[1] Several cities throughout the United States have attempted to impose such bans with varying success. One of the latest cities to join this movement is Denton, Texas. Because Texas courts have not yet addressed this issue, it is unclear whether localities have the authority to pass that form of legislation. This article analyzes the viability of local … Continue Reading

Seismic activity and fracking concerns prompt new rules for oil and gas disposal wells in Texas

On October 28th, the Railroad Commission of Texas (“RRC”) amended its existing oil and gas disposal well regulations to require seismic activity data in permit applicants, provide for more frequent monitoring and reporting for certain wells, and allow modification, suspension, or termination of permits on grounds that a disposal well is contributing to seismic activity. Specifically:

  • Applicants for a disposal permit must provide U.S. Geologic Survey (“USGS”) data regarding seismic events within a circular 100 square mile area centered on the well (a radius of approximately 5.64 miles).
  • The RRC may require additional information, including logs, geologic cross-sections, pressure front
Continue Reading

Update on Texas Railroad Commission’s proposed rule amendments for injection wells – the EPA weighs in

The EPA recently sent a letter to the Texas Railroad Commission commenting on that agency’s recently-proposed rule amendments for wastewater injection wells.  While the letter contains several minor, technical criticisms of the proposed rule amendments, the general tone of the letter is positive.  In the words of the EPA’s managers, the “RRC’s proposed regulatory changes represent a step forward . . . .”

For more information, see our previous analysis of the proposed rule amendments.


This post was written by Barclay Nicholson (barclay.nicholson@nortonrosefulbright.com  or 713 651 3662) and Jim Hartle (jim.hartle@nortonrosefulbright.com or 713 651 5695) from Norton Rose Continue Reading

US geological survey researchers release findings on reports of induced seismicity in Colorado and New Mexico

Researchers with the US Geological Survey recently released a study claiming a link between wastewater injection and reported seismicity in the Raton Basin of Northern New Mexico and Southern Colorado. The researchers sought to explain a series of August-September 2011 earthquakes in the region and claimed that there was “strong evidence that [the] earthquake sequence [was] induced by fluid injection in the area.” They came to this conclusion in part because “earthquake rate change” over time appeared “to be solely coming from the area of the wells.”

This is the latest in a series of studies seeking to explain reported … Continue Reading

Two studies raise doubt in links between fracking and groundwater contamination

Two studies concluding that hydraulic fracturing is not linked to groundwater contamination were released on Monday, September 22, 2014. The results of these studies could impact lawsuits claiming fracking caused groundwater contamination and shift the emphasis of regulators to the impact of faulty fracked wells themselves.

The United States Department of Energy released a study of fracking in the Marcellus Shale in western Pennsylvania which found no evidence that fracking fluid from the fracking operation contaminated groundwater. In the second study, researchers from Ohio State University, Duke University and the University of Rochester released the results of a study concluding … Continue Reading

Study finds no link between hydraulic fracturing and water pollution in Marcellus and Barnett Shale regions

A report published Monday concludes that, in areas of the country where natural gas drilling is common, recent cases of natural gas migration into drinking water sources likely are not the direct result of horizontal drilling itself nor of the hydraulic fracturing process, but rather can be traced to instances of defective well construction.

Researchers from five universities sought to identify whether elevated gas levels were a result of human activity and what mechanisms caused the elevated levels. The report examines data from “eight discrete clusters of fugitive gas contamination”—seven from the Marcellus Shale area and one from the Barnett … Continue Reading

Researchers tout new substance for use in treating flowback water

Researchers with the Southwest Research Institute (“SwRI”) and The University of Texas at San Antonio (“UTSA”) reported last week that they have created and tested substances called “biochar” for use in treating flowback water from wells using hydraulic fracturing. In a press release, the researchers note that biochar is a stable, charcoal-like substance created from plant-based agricultural waste. The biochar operates by attracting and retaining water, trapping impurities in the water in the process.

The researchers tested the efficacy of different types of biochar in filtering from water the specific substances oil and gas companies use in their fracking fluids. … Continue Reading

Texas Railroad Commission seismologist speaks on agency’s motivation in proposing injection well rule amendments

Last Monday, August 25, 2014, Texas Railroad Commission seismologist Craig Pearson testified before the Texas House of Representatives. Pearson noted that researchers from Southern Methodist University continue to track ongoing, extremely low-grade seismic activity in North Texas, which he called “micro-earthquakes.”

Pearson continued, stating that the Commission believes that it is a “change in pressure that’s affecting existing faults in the earth and allowing them to move and cause earthquake[s].” He said that one of the proposed rule amendments would require injection well operators to calculate the magnitude and physical extent of pressure increases their wells cause to rock formations, … Continue Reading

Texas proposes rule to evaluate seismic activity related to fracking

On August 12, 2014, the Railroad Commission of Texas (“RRC”) approved several proposed amendments to fracking regulations in the Texas Administrative Code for publication in the Texas Register. These proposed amendments relate generally to additional permitting requirements for disposal wells. Additionally, the proposed amendments would codify the RRC’s authority to request increased monitoring and reporting related to seismic events near disposal wells and to modify, suspend, or terminate a permit if fluids are not confined to the injection interval.

Over the past several years, suspicions of a connection between hydraulic fracking and earthquakes have spurred many studies and debates. In … Continue Reading

New EPA emissions proposal draws harsh criticism in Texas

A recent EPA proposal to cut carbon emissions from existing power plants has drawn harsh criticism from Texas leaders. The proposal requires a 30 percent reduction in emissions by 2030.

Critics of the rule say the EPA has no authority to regulate carbon dioxide emissions from existing power plants, and that the rule has an outsized and disproportionate impact on Texas. According to a statement by Governor Rick Perry, these rules are the “most direct assault yet” on the energy industry.

Existing coal plants will be met with new costs to comply with the new emissions limits, and at least … Continue Reading

Recent studies concerning induced seismicity and wastewater disposal wells

At the Seismological Society of America’s annual conference held in early May 2014, several studies examined whether there is a correlation between the injection of wastewater into disposal wells and seismic activity.

In an abstract entitled “Potential Case of Induced Seismicity from A Water Disposal Well in South-Central Oklahoma,” the researcher found that a swarm of earthquakes in Love County, Oklahoma beginning on September 17, 2013, were occurring at shallow depths consistent with the injection depths of a near-by injection disposal well.

However, because this area had seen similar shallow earthquakes in the past, the researcher could not address whether … Continue Reading

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