Photo showing the North facade of Texas Capitol Building

On Monday, August 22, the full Sunset Committee will be meeting to review the Texas Railroad Commission at the Texas Capitol.

Room E2.1-002 (the Members Lounge in the Capitol) has been reserved from 8a.m. – 12:30 p.m. for groups to meet and discuss. There will be presentations on the Sunset Committee, scientists on hand to share information, strategy sessions and more to help you prepare.

The Sunset hearing will be held in E1.030 and we believe the Railroad Commission’s portion will begin after noon.

You can participate in person by signing up in room E1.030 on a first come, first serve basis and giving a 3 minute testimony. It can also be accompanied by written testimony – be sure to bring 20 copies of your written comments to distribute to members and staff.

There is also a Facebook invite. Please invite your friends and share widely!

If you are not able to attend, you and anyone you know can participate electronically by following the instructions below.

For possible talking points for your testimony and comments, please consider the below bullets, as provided by other groups who will be participating Monday.

To submit electronically:

2. You will see a red horizontal bar at the top reading: The agenda and decision meeting material for the August 22, 2016 meeting are now available. Click on it.
3. You will see a gray box with a pencil icon that says “Submit comment….”
4. It will then give you a bar with many agencies from which to choose on a list – select “Railroad Commission.”
5. A series of fill in the blank slots will then appears with name/address, etc. and you can start typing your comments there.
Please know that your comments become public record.
Also know that you can live stream the meeting Monday if you click on the same box where the pencil is.
Ideas for talking points in your comment or testimony:

Public Citizen’s Oil & Gas Regulation Best Practices Study:

Significant Findings

Structure of Agency

  • Of the other states reviewed, only Oklahoma has full-time elected commissioners. However, the Corporation Commission has much broader jurisdiction than does the RRC, and the commissioners must have no direct or indirect interest in any regulated entity. Furthermore, there are limits on campaign contributions, with a prohibition on corporate contributions, for all elected offices, and in addition, contributions to Commission candidates, specifically, are limited to 120 days prior to primary and 120 days after general election.
  • Those states with appointed commissioners are part time and generally have specific, required qualifications to ensure balance and diversity.
  • Most states have oil and gas regulation under the environmental agency’s umbrella.
  • Potential for conflicts of interest in policy making functions needs to be addressed; contested cases are not the only source for such conflicts. Comparisons lead to the inescapable conclusion that RRC commissioners’ ties to industry are clearly reflected in policies and decision making.
  • What does not fall under the jurisdiction of the RRC? According to a link on its website, the answer is “railroads.” And then the public is redirected to the agencies that actually do have jurisdiction. There is no legitimate reason for the agency to keep its current, misleading name.

Transparency

  • There is an astounding lack of transparency at the RRC compared to other states. Many have searchable databases relating to inspections, complaints, and enforcement actions, including fines and penalties, by individual operator and in the aggregate, on their websites. While the RRC is busy on social media, putting out self-serving tweets, no useful information regarding these issues is readily available on their website.
  • Reports and other public information are only as good as the data collected, and many states collect much more data and conduct many more studies than the RRC.
  • Performance measures are nearly non-existent at the RRC. They seem fond of talking about how cutting edge their programs are, but provide nothing to back that up; and when compared to other states, these claims fall short.
  • Misleading statistics and other information on RRC website relating to, e.g., enforcement issues, water pollution, seismic activity.
  • Allowing another 12 years without review of an agency wholly unable to demonstrate that it is carrying out its mandated responsibilities is reckless and ill advised.

Fees/Funding

  • Despite RRC figures indicating the average well plugging cost in FY 2015 was $5-$17/ft of actual well depth, plugging bonds for individual wells is set at $2/ft; and blanket bonds significantly less.
  • Most states have higher bonding requirements, especially for horizontal wells, and some have additional bonding requirements in addition to plugging bonds, such as surface bonds to protect surface owners from damage.
  • Permitting fees are significantly higher in some states and, as with bonding requirements, are designed to place the financial burdens on industry rather than the public, and take into account economic gain from noncompliance.
  • The stated policy regarding penalties in many states is to set them high enough to ensure compliance in the first place and deter future violations.
  • All of these issues should be treated as the cost of doing business, and borne by industry.

Inspections/Enforcement

  • Lack of performance measures at the RRC make it impossible to tell what is really going on.
  • Unlike Texas, some states allow complainants to have a role in the enforcement process and decision making.
  • The RRC lacks sufficient inspectors to inspect each well even once a year; they need to impose an annual inspection fee to help cover the additional costs necessary to carry out their mandated duty to protect public health and the environment.
  • Establish minimum inspector-to-well ratio.
  • Compliance evaluation capability requires inspections and surveillance procedures independent of information supplied by operators.

Environmental and Public Health Protection

  • Striking differences in mission statements/mandates; much greater attempt to balance interests in most other states.
  • Lack of acknowledgment or studies of problems associated with oil and gas development by RRC; very little monitoring conducted compared to other states.
  • No environmental advocate at the RRC.
  • Limited opportunities for public participation.