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Putting the 'Rights' in Mineral Rights

Pending in the House Land and Resource Committee is legislation of a sort you might not expect to see in Texas. It beefs up the legal rights of mineral owners in the event a town or city should disallow the drilling of a state-approved well. Come on—what Texas town would restrict drilling for reasons other than safety and the like? 

Well, several of them, and we’re not alone. States like Pennsylvania (birthplace of the U.S. oil industry) and New York are torn by disputes over the outright prohibition of hydraulic fracturing for natural gas at the state or local level. A lot of nuttiness and needless frenzy about drilling goes on today. And so Texas Rep. Van Taylor (R-Plano) tries to clarify the issue.

Taylor’s HB 1496 classifies a mineral interest as real property on which no political subdivision could prevent or prohibit “the development of an oil or gas well that has been permitted by the Texas Railroad Commission…”

Should any entity impose an absolute ban on local drilling, a mineral owner feeling deprived of his private property rights—and why shouldn’t he feel that way?—could institute condemnation proceedings. “If cities confiscate property, they should compensate the owner,” Taylor explains, with logic hard to contest.

A March hearing on Taylor’s bill produced some dissonance as to the objective of protecting property owners from local officials who presumably cherish their present right to cave in to environmentalist demands.

Officials in the northeastern states embrace that right with might and main, oblivious, seemingly, to the good news of America’s comeback as an oil-producing nation. In just five years:

  • Domestic oil production has risen 40 percent;
  • Imports are dropping fast; and
  • “Energy independence,” whether or not it ever actually gets here, looks less and less all the time like a dream induced by peyote.

What sticks in the craws of various northeasterners is the certainty that carbon-bearing petroleum won’t yield pride of place to wind and solar alternatives. Texans—to whom oil is the energy equivalent of mother’s milk—aren’t that far gone. But it pays to look ahead. The idea of oil and gas as property rights, like buildings and homes, further tickles the Texan sense of entitlement to the fruits of ownership.

Taylor’s way of proceeding, whatever head-buttings it may have occasioned in Austin, looks like the way ahead for Texas.