AUSTIN — Oil and gas operators could be required to notify property owners before they drill and provide security to clean up damages on property where wells are drilled, if proposed legislation passes this session.
The bill would require that oil and gas producers return the land to its original condition after drilling according to testimony hears in during a hearing with the House Committee on Energy Resources Wednesday evening.
HB 3600 by Rep. Lon Burnam (D-Fort Worth) would also prohibit the release of a security or bond until six years after an oil and gas developer has filed a statement certified by the Railroad Commission saying the developer does not hold permits for oil and gas operations in the state.
Within the notice to surface owners, the oil and gas developer must include the surface owner’s rights and a schedule of operations to take place on the land. Developers would be required to provide a description of the land to be affected by operations and any changes to drainage of surface water and the use and impoundment of water on the surface of the land.
Bill Stevens, representing Texas Alliance of Energy Producers, testified against the bill saying, “It has been my experience that in fact these things should be and most often are addressed, between the operator and the surface owner, and when it comes down to the surface damage.”
“These are much larger, larger endeavors,” Stevens said. “It’s been a much more efficient operation and it should be lighter on the land, but I guess in every case it may not be. I believe for the most part it’s already being done. And if it’s not, it should be. With this I think you’re overturning a process of decades of legal precedent that just are not warranted at this juncture.”
According to HB 630 passed in 2007, by Rep. Phil King requires a 15 day notice of receipt or reentry of permit.
“Let’s enforce that,” said Stevens.
Burnam said the Legislature is all about setting new precedent.
“Long established precedence is for a judiciary body,” Burnam said. “What we’re talking about now is the population is much denser everywhere in the state and we’re having many more complications due to needing to have overlaying land uses, and that’s the reason we’re going to have to have new laws.”
Calvin Tillman made the headlines back in 2011 when he stepped down as mayor of Dish, Texas, after fracking close to his home led him to believe it was causing health problems for his family. He joined the testimony Wednesday evening to remind the committee that disclosure is the most important thing to the surface owner when “wondering why your realtor didn’t describe what could really happen — but if she had told you, you’d run.”
Tillman told the committee that what he experienced happened in Rep. King’s district.
“There’s no penalty for not complying with this rule (HB 630),” Tillman testified. “We need to have the discussion regarding surface owner protection in Texas. We have to start the discussion regarding surface owner protection here in Texas. With the vast mineral production history we should not be catching up with other states to protect our citizens. We should be leading.”
Sharon Wilson of Earthworks Oil and Gas Accountability testified in support of the bill.
“If you don’t own the minerals you don’t get to negotiate the lease,” Wilson said.
“My real estate agent told me the minerals on my property were worthless, so I shouldn’t even bother trying to buy the minerals,” Wilson continued. “If Realtors fully informed buyers that not owning your minerals means your land can be taken, your property value ruined, your health and safety threatened, there wouldn’t be very many real estate transactions in Texas. You’d better have a top-notch attorney when oil and gas shows up. Even if you can find such an attorney who’s willing to take on the industry, who can afford that? And why should they have to?”