Texas Ranchers, Public Citizen Urge Railroad Commission to Reverse Illegal Suspension of Environmental Rules

Statements of Molly Rooke, Hugh Fitzsimons and Adrian Shelley

Two Texas ranchers and Public Citizen today addressed the Texas Railroad Commission at a public meeting regarding a lawsuit they filed last month against the commission for illegally suspending  four important oil and gas industry rules. The rules require industry to plug oil wells and remediate oil and gas waste pits within a year of shutdown, require fees and surcharges on industry practices and allow for storage of oil and gas only in underground salt formations. The repeal of these rules will cause untold harm to the environment and public health in Texas. Read a copy of Public Citizen’s Aug. 4 letter to the commission here.

STATEMENTS:

“There are currently at least two dozen old, inactive and abandoned oil wells on our ranch, and we’ve been asking the state to plug them for an unacceptably long time, but they keep telling us there is not enough money to do the job. Will the wells be plugged in my lifetime? It wasn’t done in my father’s lifetime, despite his repeated efforts over several decades. There is no acceptable excuse for this prolonged delay and uncertainty. One of these old wells blew out last year, and the other remaining unplugged wells are ticking time bombs. The commission’s inaction creates the ongoing risk of harm to landowners like me, our communities and our natural resources.”

–  Molly Rooke, owner of La Rosa Ranch, Refugio County, Texas

“There are more than 6,200 abandoned oil and gas wells in our state that need to be plugged, and as of 2016 there were more than 507 direct incidents of groundwater contamination from oil and gas. Now the commission has rewarded industry by giving it a free pass to pollute and placing the burden on the environment and the public. We are not demanding that the industry stop drilling and producing; we are asking the state and the oil and gas industry to do what most parents teach their children to do: clean up your mess.”

–  Hugh Fitzsimons, owner of Shape Ranch, Dimmit County Texas

“The commission should ensure that the abandoned wells on the La Rosa and Shape Ranches are plugged and also protect other Texans and the environment by remediating all damage caused by the unplugged wells across the state. The commission is placing an undue burden on Mr. Fitzsimons and Mrs. Rooke by asking them to locate and report the unplugged wells oil their land. The commission should generate these records itself and make them easily accessible to the public. The commission should also rescind its illegal rules suspension. If the commission chooses to grant environmental protection exceptions to oil and has companies during the coronavirus pandemic, it should conduct a thorough and transparent review process and only on a case-by-case basis.”

–  Adrian Shelley,  director, Public Citizen Texas office