Finding Common Ground About What’s Underground by Chairman Christi Craddick
Last week’s election was remarkable for many reasons, including the decision by Denton residents to ban hydraulic fracturing in their community. The first of its kind in Texas, this vote has caused a bit of an uproar. As the state’s primary regulator of the oil and gas industry, the Railroad Commission of Texas is focused on fulfilling its charter and bringing clarity to what has become a contentious situation over Denton’s ban.
As Chairman of the Texas Railroad Commission who has been in and around the energy industry for decades, I understand the impact of misinformation on people’s perception of technology. Additionally, some confusion may persist about the commission’s role and how its authority intersects with local control.
Let me be clear: The voice of the people of Denton should not be overruled; rather, cities and state regulators should work together to fulfill their responsibilities to the people. In the end, a solution that keeps the local and state economies strong and the will of Denton’s citizens intact is not only possible, but an obligation.
For 90 years, the Railroad Commission of Texas has served as the state’s primary regulator of the oil and gas industry. Its overriding responsibilities are to ensure the efficient production and safe transportation of our state’s energy resources while minimizing environmental effects. We have managed the surge in Texas’ oil and gas production well, albeit in an incredibly dynamic environment. Our guidelines, rules and actions are grounded in science and almost a century of regulatory experience, so we can move confidently when addressing challenges.
The energy industry has long been a prime driver of our state’s economic vitality. Yet, those economic gains are meaningless without the health and safety of our citizens and our environment. Ensuring the continued success of Texas’ oil and gas industry involves shared responsibility. The commission’s role centers on issuing drilling permits, overseeing them and regulating operators. Conversely, companies doing business here must comply with city ordinances and be good neighbors in the communities where they operate.
Since hydraulic fracturing became a widely used practice in Texas, it has been plagued by a cloud of misinformation, mainly due to groups more interested in scaring people than actually understanding the complex science of minerals extraction. Setting the hyperbole aside reveals a simple truth: Hydraulic fracturing has never contributed to a single instance of groundwater contamination in Texas – never.
While surprising to some, that fact is due in large part to the diligence of the Railroad Commission of Texas in ensuring the safety of oil and natural gas production statewide through a rigorous process of permitting, monitoring and inspecting operations. Without exception, we hold companies accountable whenever water quality or production-related pollution is in question. Texas is our home, too. Our interests are your interests.
Over the years, as energy companies across the state have extracted oil and gas deposits from deep underground, their operations have often approached the boundaries of municipalities like Denton. In those instances, it would be best when the Commission could work with local governments to implement sensible guidelines. One of local governments’ most useful tools in such situations is the setback requirement, which establishes minimum distances between drilling operations and buildings like schools, homes and churches. In my own hometown of Midland, energy companies have long worked safely within the constraints of a standard 500-foot setback.
As a result of last week’s vote, it’s less likely a reasonable model of peaceful cooperation will be available to the people of Denton. In the meantime, Denton County will lose jobs, tax revenues, business development, and the other economic benefits that come with oil and gas production, our state’s most iconic and lucrative industry.
The people of Denton need to know that the Railroad Commission of Texas is your ally – an informed partner in your efforts to preserve your public safety, while tapping the vast economic benefits that come with localized energy production. In a world where misinformation and sensationalism too often drive the public discourse, let’s embrace the truth, adopt reasonable approaches to the challenges we face, and share the prosperity that follows.
Christi Craddick was elected statewide by the people of Texas in November 2012 to serve a six-year term as Texas Railroad Commissioner. A native of Midland, Christi is an attorney specializing in oil and gas, water, tax issues, electric deregulation and environmental policy.