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Texas’ Oversight of the Oil and Gas Industry Falls Behind Other States; Texas Railroad Commission Needs an Overhaul

Note: This release focuses on how Texas’ oversight of its oil and gas industry compares to eight other oil and gas states. To see a Texas specific version, which includes recommendations to overhaul the Texas Railroad Commission, click here.

Aug. 17, 2016

Texas’ Oversight of the Oil and Gas Industry Falls Behind Other States; Texas Railroad Commission Needs an Overhaul

Best Practices for Oil and Gas Regulation in Colorado, New Mexico, North Dakota, Ohio, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, West Virginia and Wyoming Outshine Texas

AUSTIN, Texas – Other oil and gas producing states outshine Texas when it comes to regulating the industry, a new Public Citizen study (PDF) shows. That’s why the Texas agency that oversees the industry should undergo significant changes in structure, transparency, funding, inspections and environmental protection.

The study looked at the best practices of eight states that produce oil and gas: Colorado, New Mexico, North Dakota, Ohio, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, West Virginia and Wyoming. For the research, Public Citizen chose a cross-section of oil and gas states facing similar issues as Texas. The study examined regulatory practices ranging from ethics and transparency to fines and funding to inspections and environmental protections. The findings show that Texas lags behind. View a chart (PDF) comparing the eight states to Texas.

“Other oil and gas states have stronger mandates to protect public health and the environment. States that do better in regulating the industry require more frequent inspections and have fines large enough to deter violations,” said Carol Birch, legislative counsel for Public Citizen’s Texas office. “Other states also have stronger ethics protections − Oklahoma, for example, strictly limits campaign contributions from the oil and gas industry to prevent conflicts of interest. Compare that to Texas, whose commissioners take industry contributions all year long, even when not running for election.”

The study was done as the Sunset Advisory Commission, which reviews the policies and programs of more than 150 government agencies to identify and eliminate waste, duplication and inefficiency, launched its review of the Texas Railroad Commission (RRC), which is in charge of regulating Texas’ oil and gas industry.

“Compared to the states we studied, it is clear that the regulatory practices and agency structure of the RRC need a serious overhaul,” said Tom “Smitty” Smith, director of Public Citizen’s Texas office. “The RRC mission statement promises to serve Texas through protecting the public, the environment and natural resources. This study shows it has a long way to go before fulfilling that mission.”

How Texas compares to other states:

  • Colorado has appointed (rather than elected), part-time commissioners, and it and many other states have specific, required qualifications for leadership to ensure balance and diversity.
  • Of the states reviewed, only Oklahoma has full-time elected commissioners, as does Texas. However, in Oklahoma, the commissioners must have no direct or indirect interest in any regulated entity. Oklahoma also limits campaign contributions and prohibits corporate contributions.
  • Colorado has easily searchable databases available online where one can find inspection/incident inquiries; facility inquiries; spill data, updated monthly; spill analysis by year; water well data, updated monthly; field inspection reports; and quarterly and annual enforcement reports. Texas has no such database.
  • Pennsylvania maintains a public database with information about permits, individually and in the aggregate, as well as operators, wells, facilities, inspections, oil and gas production, drilling dates, county data, operator-specific data, violations and enforcement actions.
  • Ohio inspects injection wells every 12 weeks, at a minimum. The Texas RRC lacks sufficient inspectors to inspect each well even once a year.
  • Colorado, New Mexico, North Dakota, Ohio, Pennsylvania, West Virginia and Wyoming all have either mandated baseline water testing of nearby water sources prior to drilling or a presumption of liability for pollution later found in those water sources, or both. Texas has neither.

“Our study shows that the laws in Texas are far weaker than other oil and gas states in preventing pollution and corruption,” said Smith. “If Texas wants to catch up to states that have modern and robust oil and gas regulations, the Sunset Advisory Commission needs to adopt Public Citizen’s recommendations. The RRC should not be allowed to bend over backwards to benefit industry at the citizens’ expense. And for the sake of the environment and our residents, the RRC cannot coast along for another 12 years without review to see if needed reforms have been implemented.”

Read Public Citizen’s key findings and recommendations (PDF). View a chart (PDF) comparing the eight states to Texas.