New research reveals Texas does not enforce oil and gas regulations

by TXsharon on September 25, 2012

in enforcement, Texas Railroad Commission, Uncategorized

JOINT RELEASE: Sep 25, 2012

Contacts:
Bruce Baizel, Earthworks, 970-259-3353×2
Sharon Wilson, Earthworks, 940-389-1622
Dan Boggs, Gardendale Accountability Project, 432-230-1523

Air Alliance Houston * Clean Water Action Texas * Downwinders At Risk * Environment Texas * Gardendale Accountability Project * Mountain Creek Neighborhood Alliance * North Central Texas Communities Alliance * Public Citizen Texas * Safe Fracking Coalition * Sierra Club, Lone Star Chapter * Texas Drought Project * Westchester Association of Homeowners 

New research reveals Texas does not
enforce oil and gas regulations

State enforcement data shows 296,000 active Texas wells go uninspected,
financial penalties total less than the value of one well

Sep 25th, Washington, D.C. — In association with twelve Texas groups, national resource extraction watchdog Earthworks today released an unprecedented study, Breaking All the Rules: The Crisis in Oil & Gas Regulation revealing that states across the country fail to enforce their oil and gas development regulations. The one-year, in-depth examination of enforcement data and practices — in Texas, Pennsylvania, Ohio, New York, New Mexico and Colorado — also includes interviews with ex-industry and state agency employees.

“Texas’s enforcement of state oil and gas rules is broken,” said Earthworks’ Senior Staff Attorney Bruce Baizel. He continued, “In Texas and across the country, public health and safety are at risk because states are failing to uphold the rule of law. Until Texas can guarantee they are adequately enforcing their own rules on an ongoing basis, the state must not permit new drilling.”

FULL REPORT

As recounted in the separate Texas-specific analysis, failure to enforce oil and gas regulations means that Texas is not seeking, documenting, sanctioning, deterring, and cleaning up problems associated with irresponsible oil and gas operations such as chemical spills, equipment failure, accidents, and discharges into drinking water supplies

Among the study’s findings —

  • 296,000 active oil and gas wells in Texas were uninspected in 2011.
  • Companies that are found in violation of regulations are rarely penalized: in 2012, only two percent of violations have been penalized to date.
  • Penalties are so weak that it is cheaper for violators to pay the penalty than comply with the law: the total value of financial penalties in Texas in 2009 was less than the value of the gas contained in a newly drilled gas well.

“This report underscores what landowners all over Texas already know,” said Dan Boggs, president of Gardendale Accountability Project. He continued, “The impotence by design of TCEQ and the Railroad Commission allows oil and gas companies to ignore the sparse guidelines already in existence.  Legislators must end their dereliction of duty and reform TCEQ and the Railroad Commission now.”

Drawn from both the data analysis and the stakeholder interviews, the report makes numerous common sense policy and regulatory recommendations to address the enforcement crisis, including —

  • Increasing inspection/enforcement resources until they meet a systematically and transparently developed minimum
  • Clarifying and updating rules so inspectors, companies, and the public know when operators are in violation, and the consequences;
  • Formalizing the public’s role in enforcement, including sharing information with the public and allowing citizen suits.

Texas-specific analysis

“This report shows that the industry’s claim that ‘oil and gas development doesn’t threaten public health’ is a fraud,” said Earthworks Executive Director Jennifer Krill.  She continued, “Until common sense changes are implemented, states must refuse to issue new drilling permits. ”

Reports:

Breaking All the Rules: The Crisis in Oil & Gas Regulatory Enforcement (executive summary)

Texas Railroad Commission: Inadequate enforcement means irresponsible oil and gas development (Summary of Texas-focused results and recommendations)

Breaking All the Rules: The Crisis in Oil & Gas Regulatory Enforcement (full report, 125 pages)

More contacts:

Environment Texas, Luke Metzger, luke@environmenttexas.org

Public Citizen, Tom “Smitty” Smith, 512-797-8468, smitty@citizen.org

***

Earthworks, and its Oil & Gas Accountability Project (OGAP), is dedicated to protecting communities and the environment from the impacts of irresponsible mineral and energy development while seeking sustainable solutions.

Twitter: earthworksrocks
Facebook: earthworksaction

{ 13 comments… read them below or add one }

Rosie September 25, 2012 at 5:10 pm

I believe it is only a matter of time before we have a problem being that we live in the jungle of drill sites here in Arlington, TX. I just hope that my entire neighborhood doesn’t blow up!

We need to vote new council members in who care about the environment!!!

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GhostBlogger September 25, 2012 at 5:34 pm

At the same time, the API said there’s too many regulations:

http://fuelfix.com/blog/2012/09/25/oil-trade-group-blasts-wave-of-regulations/

But, with things still blowing up & leaking in Texas & elsewhere, who do you believe?

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FC September 25, 2012 at 8:24 pm

Agggg! Give Texas back to Mexico!

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Fish Creek Neighbor September 26, 2012 at 7:48 am

In Arlington the burden to regulate this industry has, unfortunately, fallen upon the citizen’s shoulders. Many of the violations discovered here have been citizen initiated because they are drilling and polluting in our backyards where we live and where our children play. It is clear that there is not enough oversight. That must be why the industry loves to operate on the Barnett Shale.

Reply

Tillotson September 26, 2012 at 8:04 am

Congrats! Your study made the front page of hte Metro section in the FWST.

And as I’ve said all along, here in Arlington, people are going to have to die before anything changes.

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WCGasette September 26, 2012 at 2:25 pm

Saw it online. Not sure if it’s the same in print. But they said it was all about Pennsylvania. They always “frame” things in such a special way.

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Tillotson September 27, 2012 at 9:06 am

True, but knowing the FWST, having anything at all show up is a step in the right direction.

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WCGasette September 27, 2012 at 11:01 am

True. 3 steps forward 2 steps back…HOPE always springs eternal.

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Anonymous September 26, 2012 at 1:49 pm

This is an EXCELLENT, EXCELLENT post. Lots of GOOD information. Just a couple of comments: Know that in Texas the TCEQ treats the polluter as their customer! The RRC has many rules, most of which are worthless for protecting the peasants–and then, there is always a way to get one of those “rubber stamped” exemptions! Both these orgs. in Tx are worthless for protecting the peasants.

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Tim Ruggiero September 26, 2012 at 10:22 pm

The Texas Railroad Commission is the most corrupt organization on the planet. More corrupt than the ‘mafia’? Absolutely. At least with the mafia, you expect them to be corrupt, lie, cheat and steal. That’s what criminals do. The TRRC is supposed to be the ‘police’ so to speak. But, as we all know, the TRRC’s customer is Industry, and they are more than happy to tell you that. If you look at their website, aside from the fact that it’s not very user friendly, the TRRC has now put time restrictions on non-industry individuals; One can access the website only during certain times, AND when we do have access, we can only search at a certain pace. If you’re looking up leases, for example, there’s a warning message that comes up that tells the user the searches are going too fast, and it will make you wait.

I propose for the Sunset Review that the TRRC be completely disbanded, and the multi-millions in funding this organization be applied towards our schools instead. What would we do for a regulatory agency, then, you ask? Well, let’s not kid ourselves. We don’t have a regulatory agency now.

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TXsharon September 26, 2012 at 10:39 pm

Have you seen who is on the Sunset Advisory Commission this year?

You might remember this guy: Dennis Bonnen, Chair, http://www.texassharon.com/?s=Bonnen

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WCGasette September 27, 2012 at 11:37 am

They could not even get the name changed to more accurately reflect what they do in the 21st Century. At the last minute in the closing days of the 2011 Session, the legislature willfully did not even get that done.

Keeping the name as it has always been symbolizes what’s wrong in a BIG way with the Railroad Commission of Texas. That change alone is crucial to this entire issue.

Our Texas State Senate passed a bill to get the name change:

Name Change Approved by TX Senate

But that bill didn’t make it out of the chute for approval by the full legislature:

They Couldn’t Agree During the Conference Committee and Feared the EPA Would Restrict Them

[…]
Houston (Platts)–31 May 2011 /509 pm EDT/2109 GMT

Texas lawmakers have failed to pass legislation that would have reformed the agency chiefly responsible for regulating the oil and natural gas industry in the state.

A legislative conference committee Monday was unable to resolve differences between the House and Senate versions of the Sunset Bill for the Texas Railroad Commission, which would have implemented a number of reforms for the agency, including changing the name to the Texas Oil and Gas Commission, to more accurately reflect its mission.

[…]

In recent months the EPA has clashed with state officials on a number of issues, including air emissions standards and regulation of some natural gas drilling operations.

“Given the attitude that the EPA has toward Texas, we’re just very concerned to opening that door [to] those agencies,” Keffer said.[emphasis added.]
[…]

But it gets worse.

Education is another issue that our Texas Legislature seems intent to mess up as well. Here’s a great OP Ed today from our TX Democratic Party Reps Wendy Davis and Donna Howard that shows how low our state’s politics has sunk:

[…]
Earlier this month, [TX State Comptroller] Combs confirmed our earlier prediction when she admitted the State of Texas has about $3.7 billion more on hand than she initially forecast. Gov. Rick Perry and his partisan allies in the Legislature would not listen to reason, and used the flawed budget projections as an opportunity to set up a false choice: that either our public schools must suffer drastic, harmful cuts or our budget would not be balanced. They misled the public and are now coming clean only after kids and our public education system have been harmed. [emphasis added.]
[…]

TX State Comptroller Gets It All Wrong

It’s clear out state (led by Rick Perry) is in the Dumpster.

Reply

WCGasette September 27, 2012 at 11:41 am

“our” state. But maybe we are over and out.

Reply

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