During the annual Texas Public Policy Foundation — a noted conservative think-tank in Texas — 2014 policy orientation conference in Austin, Sierra Club joined Railroad Commissioner David Porter and Representative Jim Keffer (Eastland-R), chair of the Energy Resource Commission, on a panel entitled “Energy and Markets: Mastering the Resource” which was all about oil and gas. There was a packed house, including many legislators and their staff, mainly those who are more conservative in their philosophy.
During the hour-long discussion, Commissioner Porter characterized the federal government as an obstacle to continued oil and gas development and in particular set his sights on the US Fish and Wildlife, implementation of the Endangered Species Act, “radical” environmental groups whose lawsuits are used to shut down industry, and the potential for the feds to add new fracking regulations that are best left to the states. Porter said that the endangered species act was being used to shut down industries, while admitting that the state was working with USFWS to develop a habitat conservation plan for species like the Lesser Prairie Chicken. Porter did acknowledge the need for appropriate regulation and in response to questions about his recent participation in a town hall meeting on injection wells and their potential impact on tremors and earthquakes in the Azle area did again announce he wanted to hire a seismologist and review Texas rules on injection wells.
Chairman Keffer, taking a more measured approach, agreed that the oil and gas industry was creating tremendous economic opportunity and development, as well as important taxes for the state government, but agreed there had been missteps in the Dallas-Fort Worth area, and that new technology and regulations were needed. He lauded the RRC for recent new rule changes on casing and cementing, mentioned his two bills that were passed on required disclosure of fracking chemicals and new rules on rural pipeline safety. He said that during the interim, his committee wanted to look at the issue of injection wells, rural pipeline safety and also mentioned the real problem of roads and water use. On the whole, he said he was optimistic that Texas could solve these issues but needed to acknowledge them and not stick their head in the sand.
Speaking on behalf of the Lone Star Chapter of the Sierra Club, Conservation Director Cyrus Reed took a different approach, characterizing the oil and gas development as “boom and gloom.” “Like it or not, there are real consequences of this boom,” he stated. He noted that the purpose of the Endangered Species Act was to protect species, not shut down industries and that both industry and species could survive with good planning and appropriate regulation.
Reed discussed the needs for further regulations and action on air quality — including venting and flaring — injection wells, pipeline safety and rural property right, roads, water use, inspections and enforcement and climate disruption. He said the fact that so many folks were concerned with injection wells and the potential for leaking or earthquakes meant it was time to revisit those regulations — and consider a requirement for an upfront seismic analysis (which the State of Ohio) before permitting — as was also true for the large amount of gas being wasted through gasing and flaring and leaks from valves and pneumatic devices. “Climate disruption is real and the methane leaks are undermining the benefits of switching from gas to coal,” he stated.
Reed consistently stressed that any one individual oil or gas well might not be problematic, but the cumulative impact on water, air and waste streams was an environmental and public health challenge. For a copy of the agenda of the conference, see here. If you would like to see a copy of our PPT on these issues, contact me. firstname.lastname@example.org