Oil well flare in League City neighborhood

Flames from an oil well flare are visible over houses on Bethel Springs Lane in League City on Monday, June 26, 2019.

With a few minor changes, this photograph would make a fine logo for the ultra-conservative faction running our state government, especially Gov. Greg Abbott and Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick.

The photo of an oil well spitting fire over a quiet suburban neighborhood in League City is near perfect just as it is.

Rip the bricks off the well-tended houses and replace them with cheap vinyl siding, sheet metal or maybe some unpainted particle board, post a sign reading “To let, short term,” cut down half the trees and hang a few plastic bags in the limbs of what’s left, however, and you’ve got in one perfect shot the Texas that those august leaders envision.

The story becomes more perfect in expressing that vision of Texas the deeper you look.

One example of that perfection is in the fact the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality told League City officials it might be able to assesses the situation in about three days. Beautiful.

As we’ve reported before, there’s nothing League City or any other city can do to regulate the operations of oil exploration companies. Not even of rigs operating within 500 feet of a residential neighborhood, as is the one pictured.

Whatever right Texans had to regulate that sort of thing ended in 2015 when the Texas Legislature passed House Bill 40 in response to Denton’s vote to ban hydraulic fracturing within its city limits — in city parks in some cases, according to reports.

As he signed the bill, which forbids Texas cities from attempting to regulate where oil and gas wells can be drilled, Abbott said the law did a “profound job of protecting private property rights.”

House Bill 40 was among the first shots in Abbott’s war on the “patchwork of local regulations,” things such as tree preservation ordinances and plastic bag bans, that threaten his vision of what Texas ought to be.

Some people in League City today might argue their private property rights have been infringed upon. Those people don’t matter much, however, and they will come to matter less and less as the vision of Texas dancing in the heads of Greg Abbott, Dan Patrick and the rest becomes more and more the reality.

The assault in Austin on the rights of ordinary people to have some influence over what happens in their communities has nothing to do with anything as noble as private property rights.

It’s about consolidating power and regulatory authority in Austin, where money talks.

It’s not about whether Joe Property Owner can cut down a tree, it’s about whether Joe Developer can bulldoze 400 acres of them.

It’s about making influence peddling a one-stop shopping proposition; about making Texas the Walmart of pay-for-play government.

People in Denton and League City don’t matter because they don’t feed big money into that machine.

Along with all the sad truth in that one photograph is some rough Texas justice, too, and that’s the main lesson.

If Texas voters don’t want to wake up to oil wells belching fire in the backyard, they might ought to wake up about who they’re sending to Austin.

• Michael A. Smith

Michael A. Smith: 409-683-5206; michael.smith@galvnews.com

(16) comments

Steve Fouga

Give it a few more years, Michael. Texas is well on its way to becoming blue. It's already purple, but doesn't know it yet. Let's hope the Dems will be less extreme and less corrupt.

Carlos Ponce

Already purple? Keep dreaming, Steve. But we really don't want part of your nightmare. Purple? How many Democrats were elected to statewide offices in 2018? NONE! How many Democrats were elected from the Galveston County ballot in 2018? NONE! "Let's hope the Dems will be less extreme and less corrupt." Wake up Steve to reality. Your National Dems have veered to the EXTREME FAR LEFT. But I remember the "promise" of a blue Texas when Wendy Davis ran for governor. Note to Steve - SHE LOST! Then came the flood of Hollywood money to get a Democrat Texas Senator. He's now known as BEATEN O'Rourke. Note: Hollywood money does not reflect Texas values. There are enclaves of Democrat strongholds in Texas but I would not want to live there! They're not statewide. With promises of "free stuff" only the gullible will vote donkey party. There is no such thing as "free" - someone has to pay for it. I do see Steve turning BLUE - but he's holding his breath waiting for a statewide Democrat win. But on my planet there's an old saying - DON'T HOLD YOUR BREATH!

Steve Fouga

"It's already purple, but DOESN'T KNOW IT YET." Carlos, you're the best example I know of! Keep believing if you wish, but you're about to be swamped by a blue tide! Not California blue, Texas blue. Don't worry; it'll be good. You'll see. [cool]

Carlos Ponce

Texas is a Red State and will remain so. Please don't invite me to your nightmare.

Jim Forsythe

Steve, as you said, the purple wave is here. It is possible that Trump may not carry Texas. With over 1,000 people moving to Texas each day the trend will continue away from a majority in Texas being Republican. By 2020 no party will have 50% of the voters.------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------ In 2004, 61% of voters in Texas were Republicans, 2008 the number was 55.5% and in 2012 it was 57%. in 2016 the trend continued, as 52.23% were Republicans. A good example of the trend was the race of Beto O’Rourke, a unknow outside of his district when he started campaigning for Senator. He ended with 48% of the votes. Over 8 million voters voted in the race which is a huge number in a off year election. He ended with over 4 million votes.

Tony Brown

Note that the oil and gas lease, and the right to drill and operate wells, existed before the subdivisions were built. The subdivision developers knew that when they built the homes. Ditto for the homeowners when they bought their homes, although they probably didn’t have as good a grasp of the exceptions shown in the fine print on their title policies. Like most bets, it was not a sure win.

Ma Gill

Mike, what about the property rights of those who own the mineral rights? Anybody knows that, if you purchase only the surface rights, you can't prohibit the mineral rights holder from obtaining what they own. Don't like it? Buy the mineral rights or shut up.

Ron Woody

Mr. Smith, I agree with many of your sentiments, but question the idea that this is because of a certain Governor or Lieutenant Governor is absurd. The belief that any one party is more pure than the other is one that left my thoughts several years ago. Until individuals stop believing what they hear and research for themselves to come to their own conclusion, citizens will be left to the "propaganda" of whomever they choose to listen. The issue of "Home Rule" should be addressed by every community in every state, I may not agree with banning plastic bags/straws, turning lights off for turtles, or free parking anywhere, but if a community wants to enact those regulations it should be up to the elected leaders. I believe the legislature would do well to make sure the bridges and roads are in good shape, the schools are actually educating children and citizens are safe. That seems to be difficult enough without worrying about plastic bags!

John E Sr. Macrini

Nice Sensationalism Mr. Smith, but it's a crock and more nimby politics. What was here first, the people or the bubbling crude, black gold , or Texas Tea ? The whole state is on top of vast reserves of oil and gas. Anyone with any geographical knowledge of this area knows that there are a plethora producing and capped wells on both sides of I45 from Galveston to Houston in the midst of cites and homes. The same exists in Galveston , off the beach, Harborside. near downtown,and on the west end. George Mitchell is a revered man for being an employer, a philanthropist, a visionary, and a pioneer in the development of directional drilling and fracking. The developments have resulted in exponential amounts of petroleum recovery which were previously near impossible. There have been christmas trees, flare stacks , and distillate plants all over Galveston at one time or another. Mineral rights , property , production , and gasoline taxes are all vital parts of our Texas economy. People in all other cities and communities in our area have experienced drilling at one time or another and the flaring of gas subsides rather quickly. It's all part of the job here in Texas, which puts cash in our workers,pockets as well as the coffers of school districts, communities and our road and highway systems. If we extrapolate the sentiments of some, mineral rights should be outlawed, petroleum products would be prohibited, we should all Go Green, and Mr. Mitchell would be a criminal , celebrated only at Mardi Gras until the money runs out.

Bailey Jones

Well, League City votes Republican, so I assume this is what they wanted.

Kelly Naschke

I live about a quarter mile away...hasn’t bothered me one bit. I didn’t even know there was a flare until I read about it here and saw it on FB.

Ray Taft

People like Smith willingly ignore the real crisis on our border with Mexico while focusing on AOC’s Green New Deal. Democrats everywhere promise us great things. They are hell bent on doing nothing but lying to Americans in order to gain power for their own benefit. Don’t forget Obama’s big lie: if you like your doctor; you can keep your doctor. It didn’t happen. Democrats will not deliver on their pie in the sky promises to help you. Follow Smith’s lead and elect Democrats and you’ll be walking or back on horseback, freezing in the winter, sweating in the summer and wishing you had a job.

Bailey Jones

relevance (noun) the degree to which something is related or useful to what is happening or being talked about. Ex: Neither the border nor New York's most junior congresswoman is relevant to the discussion of a Texas law regarding city control of oil wells.

Diane Turski

Local control = Local accountability!! If residents don't like what state legislators are doing, vote them out in 2020!!

Don Schlessinger

"Rip the bricks off the well-tended houses and replace them with cheap vinyl siding, sheet metal or maybe some unpainted particle board, post a sign reading “To let, short term,” cut down half the trees and hang a few plastic bags in the limbs of what’s left, however, and you’ve got in one perfect shot the Texas that those august leaders envision." Mike, tell us the location of scenes we can drive to so that we can see for ourselves the destruction of Texas you describe. Seems to me your elitist attitude is showing through.

Gary Miller

New wells can't be built within 500 ft of existing homes. New homes can be built on the lot next to an old well? Y'all see anything strange about that? Property owners can't be excluded from building on property they own and property owners can't be excluded from drilling on property they own. Sounds like a good way to do things.

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