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The Brief: April 22, 2015

A shift in the public debate over the relationship between oil and gas production and earthquakes happened Tuesday with a new study in Texas and a turnabout by the Oklahoma government on the issue.

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The Big Conversation

A shift in the public debate over the relationship between oil and gas production and earthquakes happened Tuesday with a new study in Texas and a turnabout by the Oklahoma government on the issue.

The Texas study, as the Tribune's Jim Malewitz writes, focused on about two dozen earthquakes near the Barnett Shale towns of Reno and Azle. Malewitz writes:

A combination of industry activities likely caused the phenomenon, according to a study published Tuesday in the journal Nature Communications.

More specifically, according to the research, operators’ withdrawal of brine – naturally salty water removed during oil and gas drilling – and the high-pressure injection of huge volumes of wastewater from gas wells were to blame.

Meanwhile, The New York Times was reporting on a statement released by the Oklahoma Geological Survey that it is "very likely" injecting wastewater deep underground is causing most of the earthquakes in the state:

The statement noted that the most intense seismic activity “is occurring over a large area, about 15 percent of the area of Oklahoma, that has experienced significant increase in wastewater disposal volumes over the last several years.”

The statement and the website’s acknowledgment amount to a turnabout for a state government that has long played down the connection between earthquakes and an oil and gas industry that is Oklahoma’s economic linchpin.

Getting back to Texas, lawmakers contacted by The Dallas Morning News said they hadn't read the report from the SMU-led research team. State Rep. Phil King, who represents the Azle area, told the newspaper that this report reenforced the need for the state to regulate oil and gas production and not leave it to local jurisdictions. The House just passed a controversial bill that would do exactly that.

“This adds even more support to the fact that a state agency with the scientific expertise is the entity that needs to be regulating those type of wells,” King said.

State Sen. Craig Estes added that the time for addressing the issues raised in the report has passed for the current Legislature.

“At this late date in the session, there’s probably not going to be any legislation on something that just came out today but we’ll be happy to look at it and evaluate it,” he said. 

Trib Must-Reads

Analysis: Legislative Dance Partners, Stepping on Toes, by Ross Ramsey — The Texas House and Senate are ignoring each other's work, slowing progress on bills like open carry and border security legislation. They're ruffling feathers, too.

Self-Driving Car Bill Stalled by Google, Carmakers, by Aman Batheja — Both Google and an industry group representing major auto manufacturers have come out against a bill from state Sen. Rodney Ellis, D-Houston, to create a pilot program to monitor and encourage testing of self-driving cars in Texas.

Collin County DA Requests Recusal From Paxton Probe, by Patrick Svitek — Amid public pressure to step aside, Collin County District Attorney Greg Willis is looking to recuse himself from any potential prosecution of Attorney General Ken Paxton.

Minjarez Wins Runoff for Old Menéndez Seat, by Patrick Svitek — Former Bexar County prosecutor Ina Minjarez is set to become the next representative from House District 124.

When in Texas: Wear a Hat, Eat a Steak, Thank a Bee, by Ryan McCrimmon — One of the Legislature's less consequential duties came before a House committee Tuesday: designating state capitals and symbols, from the Steak Capital of Texas (Hico) to the official State Pollinator of Texas (the western honeybee).

Bonnen: Patrick "Playing Games" With Border Security, by Julián Aguilar — A key member of the Texas House’s Republican leadership blasted Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick as a Washington-style politician a day after the Texas Senate passed its version of a sweeping border security bill.

Seniors Who Fail State Exams May Have Chance at Diploma, by Morgan Smith — Thousands of high school seniors who haven't passed the required state exams are close to getting a chance at a diploma anyway under a measure advancing in the Texas Legislature.

Lawmakers Push for Consumer Access to Raw Milk, by Eva Hershaw — A lawmaker's push to increase Texans' access to raw milk stirred controversy on Tuesday, as dairy farmers, doctors and consumer advocates gathered at the Capitol to debate the merits of unpasteurized milk.

Patrick Advisers Blast Pre-K Plans Pushed by Abbott, by Jay Root — Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick's grassroots advisers are blasting Gov. Greg Abbott's plan to enhance pre-kindergarten programs, a move sure to increase tension between the top two Republican leaders.

Senate Signs Off on School Scholarship Plan, by Eva Hershaw — The Texas Senate on Tuesday signed off on legislation that could let some low-income families move their kids from public school to private school — a bill that GOP leaders were quick to distance from school vouchers.

House Backs Bill Pushing "Right to Try" Experimental Drugs, by Edgar Walters — The Texas House on Tuesday tentatively passed House Bill 21, the “right to try” bill that would allow terminally ill patients to try experimental drugs that have passed at least the first of three FDA trial phases.

The Day Ahead

•    The House convenes at 10 a.m.; the Senate convenes at 11 a.m.

•    House Insurance meets on final adjournment to take up several bills dealing with the Texas Windstorm Insurance Association (E2.036).

•    Senate Health & Human Services meets at 8 a.m. where one bill up for consideration would deny food assistance benefits to people who are behind on child support payments (Senate Chamber).

•    Gov. Greg Abbott speaks this evening at the 50th anniversary celebration in Austin for Texas State Technical College.


Amendment raises concerns that some will carry guns without licenses, The Dallas Morning News

Blue Bell oubreak dates to 2010, Houston Chronicle

Abbott: 'Texas is what America is supposed to be', San Antonio Express-News

Senate reaches deal on Cornyn human trafficking bill, opens door for attorney general vote, The Dallas Morning News

TxDOT funding bill gets new life, passing House committee, Austin American-Statesman

Overhaul of troubled Medicaid fraud division passes Senate, Austin American-Statesman

Bill would shield makers of execution drugs, Houston Chronicle

House panel appears poised to back UNESCO recognition of S.A. missions, San Antonio Express-News

Perry's Super PAC Lands Seasoned GOP Pollster, The Washington Post

Gulf Disaster a Potential Windfall for Habitat RestorationHouston Public Media

Quote to Note

“When you’re putting together a campaign for president, like I’ve been, that entails a lot of time. It’s not like I’ve been at the beach sipping a piña colada.”

GOP presidential candidate Ted Cruz, explaining last month his poor committee attendance as a U.S. senator

Today in TribTalk

What makes Texans in Washington different, by Mark P. Jones — It's no surprise that Texans in Congress are conservative, but are they really that much more conservative than their colleagues from other red states?

Trib Events for the Calendar

•    Energy: The Next Five Years on April 24 at at SMU in Dallas

•    A Conversation With HUD Secretary Julián Castro on May 1 at The Austin Club

•    A One-Day Symposium on Health Care on May 4 at Huston-Tillotson University in Austin

•    A Conversation With John Sharp on May 7 at The Austin Club

•    A Conversation About Texas Monthly's Best and Worst Legislators 2015 on June 18 at The Austin Club

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Craig L. Estes Dan Flynn Dan Patrick Dennis Bonnen Greg Abbott John Cornyn Ken Paxton Phil King Rick Perry Rodney Ellis Ted Cruz