Oklahoma House's top Democrat decries loss of local oil and gas drilling control

TIM TALLEY, Associated Press

Oklahoma House's top Democrat decries loss of local oil and gas drilling control

OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) — Democrats in the Republican-dominated Oklahoma House are disappointed by passage of a GOP-backed bill that prohibits cities and towns from regulating oil and natural gas drilling operations, the chamber's top Democrat said Thursday.

Del City Democrat Scott Inman said passage of the legislation represents a shift away from local control and the protection of property owners' rights toward a centralized control of regulations regarding drilling operations by the statewide Oklahoma Corporation Commission.

"We think what's been done is a disservice to the people of Oklahoma," Inman said.

The House passed the bill 64-32 Wednesday largely along party lines. The bill's author, House Speaker Jeff Hickman, R-Fairview, said a hodgepodge of local regulations involving oil and gas drilling had created a patchwork of guidelines that were difficult for oil and gas operators to follow.

Inman said the bill's passage raised the concern of Democrats as it came a day after the Oklahoma Geological Survey said it is "very likely" that a swarm of recent earthquakes were triggered by the subsurface injection of wastewater from oil and gas drilling operations.

During debate on the bill, Hickman said the commission had shut down certain disposal wells across the state that were suspected of being the source of earthquakes in nearby communities.

On Thursday, Hickman spokesman Joe Griffin said elected members of the commission are monitoring earthquake activity and have prepared new statewide guidelines for permitting disposal wells.

"Opening the door to patchwork policy invites problems," Griffin said.

The bill is among several filed by lawmakers this year to limit local regulations in the wake of a ban on fracking that voters in the north Texas city of Denton overwhelmingly approved in November.

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