TULSA — A group responsible for managing Oklahoma's floodplains says bills moving through the Legislature that prohibit cities from regulating oil and natural gas drilling operations could prevent the state from participating in the National Flood Insurance Program.
The Oklahoma Floodplain Managers Association sent a letter to lawmakers last month warning that the local control legislation might prevent flood insurance policies from being written and renewed, the Tulsa World reported Sunday. Officials said fixing the legislation would be fairly simple by adding language that would not change the bills' purpose.
Tom Leatherbee, chairman of insurance and regulatory affairs for the nonprofit association, said he has talked to several lawmakers about the issue and that all seemed concerned, "but it hasn't gone anywhere."
"These bills are being pushed very strongly. We weren't in a position of asking for any specific outcome. All we did is provide information that there might be an unintended consequence here," Leatherbee said.
At least three bills pending in the Legislature would limit the ability of local governments to regulate drilling issues including setbacks, noise, odor and dust. The bills would bar local governments from banning drilling outright.
The National Flood Insurance Program requires participating communities to adopt and enforce an ordinance that reduces the risk of flooding in "special flood hazard areas," also known as the 100-year floodplain. In return, the federal government provides subsidized flood insurance.
The program was established by Congress in 1968 as a way to prevent future flooding and provide affordable flood insurance, though the cost has increased in recent years.
The vast majority of homeowners with flood insurance have federally subsidized policies because private policies often are not available or are too expensive, Leatherbee said.
Most energy companies already abide by the minimum standards required by the flood insurance program, he said. Standards include anchoring equipment and using debris fences during construction.
"This is not a compliance issue; it's a legal issue," he said.