Report – Texas oil and gas regulators are immersed in fossil fuels

Early Saturday, October 2011, Mike Smith noticed a strange smell of gasoline while fishing in his pond on his property northwest of Dallas. Texas was in the midst of a long drought, and the stench was rising from a dry pool. As Smith dug in, the yellow liquid floated. Assuming the liquid was probably a petroleum product, Smith contacted Burlington Resources Oil and Gas to report the leak. Burlington was referred to Targa Resources, a pipeline company that manages oil and gas pipelines from the Burlington wells.

Although it was asked to report the pollution under local laws, Berlin or Targa did not notify the Texas Railways Commission, the state’s oil and gas regulatory agency. They also did not conduct technical assessments to determine the extent or cause of the contamination. Instead, after Smith appealed to the commission, both companies began to deny responsibility for the cleanup. The debate continued for the next seven years. Agency officials determined that the tarpa pipelines could be contaminated, and the targa cleaned the surrounding area. A.D. In 2019, the commissioners rejected Smith’s request for further investigation and follow-up and relinquished both companies’ responsibilities.

It could be another example of a tragic slow regulatory agency – if the companies under investigation are not financially demanding for the commissioners. At the time of the case, two of the three commissioners who signed the clean-up had acquired shares in Concoco Phillips, a parent company in Burlington. A.D. In 2019, Commissioners Wayne Christian and Christy Cradic sold up to 99 Konoko Phillips shares, according to individual financial statements. Craddik reported holding shares worth up to $ 4,042 by the end of 2019. Between 2015 and 2021, the two commissioners raised significant $ 31,000 in campaign contributions from the Conco Phillips and Targa Political Action Committees and executives employed by the companies.

Supervisors who have a financial stake in a company make official decisions that may affect the main line. Such clashes are not uncommon in the Texas Railways Commission, or RR, one of the most powerful environmental agencies in the country. The Texas-based non-profit organization, which oversees the Railways Commission, has been at odds with all three current commissioners, according to Commission Shift New and Upcoming Reports.

To begin with, more than two-thirds of the $ 10 million campaign contributions since 2015 have come from the oil and gas industry. Last year, Commissioners Cradic and Christian held hundreds of thousands of dollars in shares in dozens of oil and gas companies, including Shell, Diamondback Energy, Kinder Morgan, and ConocoPhillips. A.D. Commissioner Jim Wright, who joined the commission in 2020, had a stake in more than 18 oil fields. Waste water from oil and gas works is controlled by the RRC, and operators of Wright companies have issues considered by the agency.

“We want the commissioners to make decisions that will benefit the people of Texas and will always be financially viable,” said Virginia Palacio, executive director of the commission’s Shift and co-author of the report.

It is responsible for overseeing the oil and gas industry in the country’s largest oil producer. In regional elections, it is headed by three commissioners who vote for a six-year term. The agency oversees the industry by overseeing the industry’s efforts to cover oil production, demand environmental protection and sanitation, and incur millions of dollars in fines.

But that power is seldom used. Following the closure of the state in the wake of a devastating winter storm in 2011, federal regulators advised weather pipes and fossil fuels to prevent another similar disaster. But ARC did not heed those warnings, and Texas went into darkness again this year when Winter Hurricane Uri fell to the ground. It has recently allowed operators to burn more than a million cubic feet of natural gas per day, emitting billions of pounds of air pollution.

As a result, the agency is described by industry groups and advocates as “captives” for industrial needs, occasionally punishing polluters or imposing strict pollution restrictions on Texas’ health and safety.

This recognition was highlighted by the fact that commissioners were allowed to receive unlimited campaign contributions from the industry they controlled throughout the year, in contrast to oil and gas regulators in nearby states. For example, members of the Oklahoma Corporation Commission are required to refrain from any oil and gas needs before serving in the agency, and campaign contributions are covered by $ 5,000. There are no such requirements for RRC commissioners.

Private financial statements that require commissioners to disclose the amount of securities and the nature of income, and the current maximum limit for interest rates are “$ 44,630 or more,” covering commissioners’ financial ties to anyone. The given body. The agency’s simplification policies require commissioners to refrain from making decisions that are “personal or private interest,” but it is not clear what such interest is. Texas laws refer to the state constitution, but the constitution does not provide further guidance. In the event of a conflict of interest, the commissioners decide whether or not to repeat themselves. If they fail to do so, the attorney general may step in to enforce the policy, but the current Texas attorney general is embroiled in a moral scandal.

Despite many financial relationships with oil and gas companies, the commissioners have been independent on five occasions in the last six years, Palacio said. A.D. In 2016 and 2017, Commissioner Cradic distanced herself from two issues that did not involve financial institutions. Involvement of the state attorney general in the dismissal of the agency executive (dismissal by another commissioner).

“It is strange that these laws could not be interpreted in terms of their own financial interests,” says Palasius.

In a statement to Commissioner Grace, Commissioner Christian said: “The entire investment portfolio consists of joint ventures and other similar accounts managed by a third-party manager without my input” and his personal statements “may be instantaneous and varied over time.” Any day. The commission accused Shift of being an “anti-oil and gas special interest group.” Commissioner Wright said the decisions are based on what is best for Texas.

“It is important for me to protect public trust, not to mention my personal beliefs, and I am committed to complying with all laws and regulations that are governed by state law and administered by the Texas Ethics Commission,” he said. Commissioner Cradic’s office did not respond to a request for comment.

Finally, ethical rules are important because they improve the public representation of the agency according to Palasius. While there are no concrete facts, there are many instances in which the public is demanding the commissioners’ neutrality as the commission’s reports stand to benefit from its decisions.

Corpus Christis-based waste disposal company exemplifies this. Blackhorn Environmental Services controls non-toxic oil and gas waste and was licensed to renew earlier this year. Prior to the commission’s decision to renew the license, local residents living near the Blackhorn station who were experiencing serious health problems protested against the facility. Smoke from the plant and heavy trucks transporting garbage to the landfill were responsible for flooding eyes, sore throats, and other health problems. Commissioner Wright, the owner of two companies that used the Blackhorn site to eliminate oil and gas waste, has voted to renew the license.

“This creates a sense of conflict, and it is truly frustrating for people who are exposed to the effects of pollution,” said Palasius. “They are raising their children there. If you file a lawsuit, how long will it take? And what does the Railways Commission do to create an environment where people can live a healthy life? ”

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