I’ve had more than one reader ask me to check out whether Texas oil and gas powerhouse attorney Shannon Ratliff wrote House Bill 40.
I put that task on my to-do list for this Sunday’s piece, a thorough question-and-answer on HB 40. Reaction from various attorneys and others who watch challenges to municipal authority call HB 40 everything from legislative overreach and a really bad law, to a reasonable compromise.
If you replay the testimony from the March 23 House Energy Resources Committee, about an hour in (the entire bill’s history is here), Ratliff is on the panel and fielding many questions from state representatives about the bill. It’s not hard to see why some people would come to the conclusion that Ratliff wrote the bill.
Ratliff: The fact of the matter is, we attempted in this bill, to connect it with a well established principal in oil & gas law and that is the reasonable and prudent operator rule.
Ratliff: What we’ve tried to do, is put some standards in place to deal with the general statement about it’s health, safety and welfare. And what we’ve done there, is we’ve taken activities that cities have typically engaged in such as setbacks for all kinds of activities …
Rep. Tom Craddick (to Ratliff): What about the legal aspect in this, the lawsuits? I mean, obviously no one seems to know—you may know because you wrote it—but no one seems to know what commercially reasonable is…
The two then share a joke about how the new definition of “commercially reasonable” would put attorneys in great demand. (Yet another descriptor I’ve read for HB 40, an attorney’s right-to-work bill.)
Loyal readers of Texas Monthly may remember a 2009 piece by Mimi Schwarz that detailed a long and storied battle between ExxonMobil and the prominent O’Connor family of South Texas.
It was in that story we learned of Ratliff’s impeccable credentials as an attorney and as one of the state’s power brokers; how his success before the Texas Supreme Court earned him the nickname “the Dark Knight of Oil and Gas law.”
I called him and asked him today if he wrote HB 40. He acknowledged the joke from the hearing, but denied writing HB 40.
Ratliff said State Rep. Drew Darby wrote it.