2012-02-08 / Columns

Oil & Gas Report

Railroad Commission of Texas: Accomplishments in 2011
Leon Zabava

We are fortunate in our great State of Texas to have the “best” when it comes to authorities that set the rules and regulations governing the oil and gas industry. The Texas Railroad Commission is “second to none” in my perspective. In one important aspect of the oil and gas area, nationally it was desired that action be taken within a year or so on disclosing the chemical makeup of hydraulic fracturing fluids. The Railroad Commission of Texas went to work immediately, well ahead of other states, and constructed a hydraulic fluid disclosure format.

The Railroad Commission of Texas instituted several important advancements over the past year ranging from a boost in inspectors to the aforementioned adopting of one of the nation’s most comprehensive chemical disclosure rules for hydraulic fracturing. The Railroad Commission is the state’s oldest regulatory agency. The Commission’s primary focus is on stewardship of natural resources and the environment, personal and community safety, and support of enhanced development and economic vitality in Texas. Established in 1891, the Railroad Commission of Texas is the oldest regulatory agency in the state. The Commission has a long and proud history of service to both Texas and to the nation, including more than 90 years regulating the oil and gas industry. Additionally, the Commission promotes research and education on the use of alternative fuels and has jurisdiction over gas utility, surface mining and pipeline industries.

As a result of an increased appropriation from the 82nd Legislature, the Commission increased the number of oil and gas inspectors from 88 to 153 thereby strengthening environmental protection and public safety efforts. Last year, Oil and Gas Division field staff in the Commission’s District Offices monitored over 396,000 wells across the state and conducted approximately 115,000 field inspections.

The Commission’s Pipeline Safety Division reports that Pipeline Safety inspectors completed 3,100 inspections in 2011, up from approximately 2,500 in the previous year. These increased inspections include: 21 percent more on distribution systems; 34 percent more on gas transmission lines; and 28 percent more on hazardous liquids lines. In March the Commission adopted a new rule requiring distribution operators to begin managing their highest-risk systems with replacement programs. Excavation related pipeline damage incidents have dropped since the inception of the Commission’s Damage Prevention program from 12,847 in 2008 to 8,503 in 2011, a 33.8 percent decrease in excavation related damage incidents.

In response to passage of House Bill 3328 last session, the Commission adopted one of the nation’s most comprehensive chemical disclosure rules for hydraulic fracturing. Oil and gas operators must disclose the chemicals used in the hydraulic fracturing fluid pumped into their wells. The rules also require drillers to disclose the amount of water used for hydraulically fracturing each well in the state. Texas is one of the first states to require making that information easily accessible to the public.

The Texas Commission on Environmental Quality’s surface casing team was transferred to the Commission and renamed the Groundwater Advisory Unit. Addition of the Unit has increased efficiency of day-to-day industry operations by eliminating the need for dual agency involvement.

The Commission created an Enforcement Roundtable and launched a technological effort for the purpose of expanding the agency’s online field inspection reporting system. The goal is to publish complaint and enforcement data on the agency website where it can be easily accessed by the public. The first phase was completed with some enforcement data now available on the agency website. The Commission will continue to roll out more comprehensive information over the coming months with final completion of the project expected in early 2013.

Another technological advance made in the past year was the redesign of the agency website and enhancement of its search capabilities. This was the latest improvement to the Commission website which already contains a GIS map viewer and data query applications making it possible for the public and operators to access informaton ranging from drilling permits and production data to disposal/injection well data and pipeline information. Approximately 91 percent of forms and reports are filed by operators electronically through the RRC Online Systems. The Drilling Permit query alone receives an aveage of one million page views per month


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