What’s in a name? When it comes to the Railroad Commission of Texas, the name says little about what this important state agency does on a day-to-day basis. With 125 years of history, the commission was established to oversee the regulation of railroads. Today, it is recognized as a worldwide leader in the regulation of oil and gas.
The transition was sparked when oil and gas production grew to include the transporting of oil to market by rail. The commission was delegated oversight of not only the transportation of oil and gas products, but eventually its safe production. In this age of renewed Texas oil and gas development, it is important that all Texans are familiar with the job the commission is doing in their community.
As your railroad commissioner, I have the privilege of overseeing some of Texas’ most exciting and dynamic industries. Since 1891, the commission has been charged with ensuring a fair and responsible regulatory structure for oil and gas production and promoting policies that guarantee the robust development of our state’s huge energy potential. With extended jurisdiction over related industries including intrastate pipelines, natural gas utilities and surface mining operations, the commission ensures that Texans continue to enjoy the economic benefits of our state’s many, plentiful mineral resources and that our communities and environment remain safe. Now a global leader in energy regulation, foreign governments from across the world regularly visit the agency to learn more about how to successfully manage energy exploration and production in their own countries.
The agency’s Oil and Gas Division inspectors work every day to ensure that companies comply with our rules, established to protect the public and our state’s natural resources. Operations found in noncompliance are met with fines, and if necessary, the shutting down of production and the revocation of a company’s license to drill in Texas. This division also manages any necessary cleanup involving oil and gas spills or discharges. Last year, the agency plugged more than 560 abandoned wells and oversaw the cleanup of more than 200 oilfield sites. This type of work, which provides community and environmental protection, is funded by fees collected from industry, not by Texas taxpayers.
The Oversight and Safety Division supervises pipeline safety, and natural gas utilities. This division holds jurisdiction over pipelines that begin and end within Texas. The commission has some of the nation’s most stringent pipeline safety rules, requiring all natural gas distribution companies to assess their pipeline systems for the greatest potential threats and each year replace a minimum five percent of those pipelines.
Overseeing natural gas rates, this division ensures fair and reasonable rates for consumers. Last year, audits discovered rate overcharges resulting in more than $1.3 million in refunds to natural gas utility customers across the state, keeping more hard earned dollars in the pockets of Texans.
Coal used in power plants generating electricity helps to keep the lights on for our residents, not only in Texas, but across the nation. The Texas economy enjoys the benefits of being the sixth-largest producer of coal in the U.S., and our Surface Mining and Reclamation Division oversees mining operations and reclamation once mining ceases. Commission policies require that Texas land is returned to a condition that is as good as, or better than, it was before mining activities occurred.
Texans should be proud that our state has long been recognized as a regulatory leader. New technology, which allows companies to reach energy resources previously inaccessible, has ignited an energy revolution in the U.S. led by Texas. Fortunately, because of our more than 100-year old history overseeing energy development, the commission is deeply experienced in developing rules and taking actions grounded in science, even as this dynamic industry quickly evolves.
As you can see, the Railroad Commission has a strong record of balancing environmental protection with economic growth and energy development. We are proving it every day across the state. But please, just don’t ask me about railroads.
Craddick is one of three state railroad commissioners. She has served on the commission since 2012.