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Oklahoma Lawmakers Pass Measure Preventing Local Fracking Bans


The ongoing controversy over fracking has taken a new turn recently - a state ban on local bans on fracking. Texas did just that last week. And this week, Oklahoma's governor is expected to decide whether to sign a bill that stops local governments from creating their own bans. As Joe Wertz from State Impact Oklahoma reports, a drilling boom in that state and a surge in earthquakes have fueled public interest in stricter rules.

JOE WERTZ, BYLINE: When Tammy Mix bought her home 10 years ago, she had no idea her family was moving to an oil field. She walks to a muddy clearing and a bus-sized hole lined with metal cylinders just beyond her property line in Stillwater, Okla.

TAMMY MIX: So we are looking at the pit that was put in during the drilling process, which can stay here for up to a year or more, and then also a battery and tanks that are put in for whenever the process is complete.

WERTZ: The drilling started last year. Mix and her neighbors were tired of the noise, the truck traffic and the blinding lights from the rig, so they called the city and asked what could be done.


UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: Good morning. City of Stillwater.

JOHN DORMAN: Stillwater's current oil and gas ordinances date back into the the 1970s.

WERTZ: John Dorman is the city attorney. He says the old rules weren't written for today's much larger, horizontally drilled and fracked wells, so city officials started drafting new rules to block fracking. Oklahoma lawmakers, like House Speaker Jeff Hickman, said not so fast.

JEFF HICKMAN: A fracking ban is a drilling ban.

WERTZ: The energy industry is a primary economic driver for the state. Oklahoma lawmakers filed several bills this year to prevent municipalities from banning fracking or other oil and gas activities. They did it because of what happened in Denton, Texas, last year. Voters there banned franking within Denton city limits.

HICKMAN: It's been a real mess in Texas.

WERTZ: The Texas vote spooked Oklahoma lawmakers, like Hickman and the oil industry, who wanted a law to prevent something similar from happening. A final bill has been sent to Governor Mary Fallin who's expected to sign it. A similar measure was just approved in Texas. Oklahoma's legislation preserves local authority to enact reasonable zoning rules, but no one agrees what that means. Stillwater mayor, Gina Noble, said lawmakers should practice in the state what they preach to Washington.

GINA NOBLE: Our state is very fond of limited government, and I just see anything that adds more government, especially to a municipality, doesn't really gel with our wishes for limited government.

WERTZ: Noble worries state legislation that limits the authority of cities and towns will make it harder for residents have a voice on local issues like the oil well next-door. For NPR News, I'm Joe Wertz in Oklahoma City. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Joe Wertz/State Impact Oklahoma