Proposal could give cities power over big oil

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From left to right: Sen. Lonnie Paxton, Richard Raupe, Jason Orr

By Tim Farley, News Editor – Cities and towns may get some tools to fight back against oil and gas companies if drilling activity occurs inside municipal limits.

Senate Bill 1257, authored by Sen. Lonnie Paxton (R-Tuttle), would allow cities and towns to enact ordinances and rules connected to light pollution, noise and air pollution if an oil and gas operation is built within 1,000 feet of an occupied residence or commercial building.

“There is no law how close a well site can be built to a house,” Paxton said. “There are some populated areas with well sites that are going in 200 to 300 yards from an existing house. I’ve had multiple citizen requests for this type of legislation from the east side of my Senate district.”

However, new ordinances would be limited in their scope. The proposed measure would restrict the financial burden the ordinance could place on oil and gas companies. The cost of new restrictions imposed by a city could not exceed $25,000 for each drilling permit issued.

“I’ve been working with the oil industry and the municipalities on this to find a common-sense solution,” Paxton said. “Most oil and gas companies try to be good neighbors, but there’s a couple that push the limits of state law.”

In most instances, the drilling activity is temporary, and Paxton doesn’t want to overregulate.

“But it can be more than a temporary nuisance for homeowners or businesses,” he said.

“We can’t let an industry run over people.”

Okarche Town Administrator Richard Raupe said he favors any legislation that gives cities and towns more authority over oil and gas companies. Paxton represents all of Okarche and other parts of Canadian County extending east to Piedmont Road and Northwest Highway.

“We can’t drill a water well within 300 feet of an oil well, but they can drill an oil well about anywhere they want,” he said.

Only one oil well has been drilled within Okarche’s town limits and there were no problems.

“The oil company came to us and went above and beyond to be good neighbors, but not all oil and gas companies are that way,” he said.

New regulations allowed by SB 1257 would not be enforced if the oil and gas company and property owners make an agreement about the location of the well and its operation.
Piedmont City Manager Jason Orr was not thrilled with the measure and its potential impact on cities.

“As written, I think this bill would severely limit the ability we have as a local government to mitigate oil and gas well nuisances,” he wrote in an e-mailed response. “Allowing property owners within 1,000 feet of a proposed well to negotiate terms with an oil company may work well in rural settings, but within the Piedmont municipal limits it will effectively nullify the voice of any citizen outside of that 1,000 feet. The city’s hands would be tied and we would be unable to enforce our current ordinances concerning oil and gas well operation.”

Orr also wrote in his email that putting a $25,000 cap on remedies would be a “slap in the face” to Piedmont citizens.

“If an oil company creates a nuisance, they should be responsible to correct it regardless of the associated cost,” he wrote.

Cody Bannister, spokesman for the Oklahoma Independent Petroleum Association, said the organization’s legislative committee has not reviewed the bill and the OIPA has not taken a specific position yet.