Oil, gas rights balanced against local ones in committee debate Tuesday

Article By: The Oklahoman

A proposed law that could allow mineral rights owners to sue municipalities or other local jurisdictions because of overly restrictive oil and gas laws, rules or regulations survived a committee hearing Tuesday, barely.

House Bill 2150, co-authored by Oklahoma Sen. Mark Allen, R-Spiro, and Rep. John Pfeiffer, R-Orlando, received a due pass recommendation by a 7-to-5 vote by members of the Senate Judiciary Committee, but only after the measure’s enacting clause was removed.

The measure, committee members learned Tuesday, also is being discussed by a working group involving the Oklahoma Independent Petroleum Association-Oklahoma Oil and Gas Association and the Oklahoma Municipal League.

The OIPA-OKOGA supports the bill, while the league supports city officials who are alarmed by its language and seek to prevent its passage.

It wasn’t clear Tuesday whether the Association of County Commissioners of Oklahoma, which represents county commissioners at the Capitol, is involved in the working group.

A lobbyist representing the association didn’t reply Tuesday to an emailed request for comment. But based upon an emailed statement from OIPA-OKOGA’s president, it appears counties are lobbying against it.

“The Oklahoma Municipal League has reached out to us about working with our local community leaders on common-sense solutions to these important issues,” Chad Warmington wrote Tuesday.

He described the discussions as “a welcome change from the hostile approach that county representatives — who continue to misrepresent what is contained in this bill — have taken towards the oil and natural gas industry.”

OIPA-OKOGA, Warmington has said, believes mineral rights owners should be able to seek financial compensation from local governments where over-restrictive rules prevent drilling and production of their reserves.

The bill’s language states an ordinance, rule or regulation could constitute a taking under Article 2 of Oklahoma’s constitution and relevant statutes if it were to substantially impact minerals’ values by interfering with the use of or access to minerals by substantially increasing oil and gas operational costs.

If made law, the language would add to existing statute that already bars municipalities, counties and other local jurisdictions from adopting ordinances, rules or regulations that exceed the Oklahoma Corporation Commission’s authority to regulate the oil and gas industry.

Local officials counterargue state law allows municipalities and other local governmental entities to adopt laws, rules and regulations that protect the health, welfare and safety of their residents.

They add that surface owners in Oklahoma are entitled to as much legal protection as mineral rights owners.

On Tuesday, Allen said the Legislature needs to protect all property owners in Oklahoma, “both mineral and surface owners.”

Committee Chairman Julie Daniels, R-Bartlesville, observed balancing industry and local concerns are a growing, problematic issue that involves both the oil and gas and agriculture industries. Daniels urged committee members to support the bill.

However, two Republicans on the committee, Sen. Lonnie Paxton, R-Tuttle, and Sen. Darcy Jech, R-Kingfisher, joined its three Democrats in voting against the measure.