Texas Railroad Commission Alive and Well
I read with great interest a May 9 editorial in the San Antonio Express EXPR-2.54% News editorial titled “The Railroad Commission is Broken”. Having worked with and around the Texas Railroad Commission in various jobs over the last three decades, and given that it seems to me the Commission today may be working more effectively than it ever has, I found the timing especially intriguing.
The current three commissioners – Barry Smitherman, David Porter and Christy Craddick – have over the last few years moved more aggressively than any other commission panel in my memory to rewrite regulations to ensure they are up-to-date and effectively address the current deployment of technology and drilling and completion practices of the modern oil and gas industry. A good example is the Commission’s recent rewriting and issuance of an updated Statewide Rule 13, which governs the requirements for completing oil and gas wells, protection of groundwater resources, and the conduct of hydraulic fracturing operations. This new Rule 13 once again puts Texas’s regulatory structure at the forefront of state-level industry regulation and now serves as a state-of-the-art role model that other states are in the process of emulating.
It is valid to point out that the Commission was caught a bit short-staffed by the state’s shale oil and gas boom that ramped up very rapidly in the 2008 through 2010 time frame, but that should not be surprising. It always takes a period of time for any government agency at any level to react and modernize in response to such dramatic and rapid change in any regulated industry. Frankly, the response by the Railroad Commission to what has really been an unprecedented and massive boom has been quite efficient when compared to the glacial pace of agencies at the federal level, and in other states around the country.
It is also important to note that the oil and gas industry itself has recognized the strains that its rapid development has placed on the Commission. In the last 2 sessions of the Texas Legislature, the oil and gas industry worked cooperatively with leading legislators and the commissioners to agree to raise fees on itself in order to fund significant budgetary increases for the Commission, to pay for the hiring of more field inspectors and other staff, and to fund the modernization of the Commission’s website, which was recently activated.