The Texas oil and gas industry experienced another major change this year, as COVID-19 wiped out much of the world’s demand for oil just as Texas ascended to the spot of leader in oil production in the U.S. The Texas Railroad Commission grappled with the question of whether and how to intervene in markets to support the industry, prompting the question whether the agency has the proper structure and tools to regulate today’s oil and gas industry.
Both candidates for the Railroad Commission say the agency must change in order to handle an industry of global importance. We recommend voters choose Democrat Chrysta Castañeda as the candidate with practical solutions to put the commission in a leadership role on major energy issues.
Castañeda, 57, calls on the commission to focus on the first tenet in its mission statement, stewardship of natural resources and the environment. Doing so would guide the commission to resolve some of its knotty problems while dealing fairly with energy companies and supporting the public trust that is necessary for the industry to thrive.
The Republican in the race, Jim Wright, 58, said the commission should set up an outside council of advisers from the industry and other businesses to create a vision for the Texas industry and act as go-betweens with Washington politicians to push for any federal changes that plan would require.
Castañeda’s approach addresses, for example, the wasteful practice of flaring. Oil producers aren’t allowed to burn off the natural gas that an oil well produces unless the commission makes an exception. Trouble is, much of the oil production is in areas that lack natural gas pipelines to carry the gas to market. Rather than hold up oil production until pipelines are built, the commission has granted flaring exceptions for many operators.
Castañeda, an oil and gas attorney who once represented T. Boone Pickens, said the commission isn’t following its mission of stewardship by allowing so much flaring. The principle of stewardship supports more pipelines to bring natural gas to market, she said, and her idea of building natural gas-fired power plants in the oil patch. Power generation is beyond the scope of the Railroad Commission, but the agency’s leadership could open a path for this idea.
If elected, Castañeda said she would find a way to boost funding for the commission, which operates on industry fees and lacks the staff to properly regulate an industry of this size. And she would begin a process to create the structure for the commission to react quickly in a market emergency. For her practical ideas and vision to focus the commission on its mission statement, we recommend Castañeda.
Katija Gruene is running for the seat with the Green Party and Matt Sterett is running as a Libertarian.
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Early voting starts: Oct. 13
Election Day: Nov. 3
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