2011: Year of Railroad Commission Accomplishments
AUSTIN ––The Railroad Commission of Texas instituted several important advances over the past year ranging from a boost in inspectors to adopting one of the nation’s most comprehensive chemical disclosure rules for hydraulic fracturing. The Railroad Commission, the states’ oldest regulatory agency, is charged with regulating the oil and gas industry in Texas. 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.
The accomplishments throughout 2011 demonstrate the Commission’s commitment to those priorities and include:
- In Fiscal Year 2011, the Commission investigated, assessed, or cleaned up 200 abandoned pollution sites and plugged 801 orphaned wells using state managed funds.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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 been 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 early in FY 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 t he Commission website which already contains a GIS map viewer and data query applications making it possible for the public and operators to access information 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 average of one million page views per month.
- The Commission’s Coal Mine Regulatory Program launched a project to digitize all paper records with a goal of completing this project in 2012. Online availability of these records will follow and are projected to be electronically available in 2013. The Abandoned Mine Land Reclamation program reclaimed three abandoned uranium mines in Karnes County and one abandoned lignite mine in Milam County by eliminating 72 acres of spoil and pits. A total of 180 acres were stabilized by constructing erosion control structures and establishing vegetation in this reclamation. The Commission expended approximately $2.4 million through four different reclamation contracts to accomplish this work and provide jobs for Texans.
- The Commission’s Alternative Fuels Research & Education program (AFRED) issued $765,800 in rebates to 2,687 Texas propane consumers who equipped their homes and businesses with energy-saving propane water heaters and other propane appliances. Additionally, AFRED administered $15.7 million for 44 Texas school districts and other public fleets to purchase new low-emission , propane-fueled vehicles and install or upgrade their propane fueling stations under grants from the U.S. Department of Energy and the State Energy Conservation Office.
- The Commission’s Gas Services Division conducted 142 utility field audits resulting in the collection of $538,000 of under paid gas utility taxes. Additionally, the Division processed more than 200,000 natural gas utility tariff and current rate filings, filed and reviewed 80 natural gas utility dockets, and facilitated over 950 natural gas consumer complaints and inquiries.
- Inspectors in the Alternative Energy Division conducted 14,541 liquefied petroleum gas (LPG), compressed natural gas (CNG) and liquid natural gas (LNG) safety inspections on school buses, health care centers, mass transit vehicles, public installations and transportation vehicles. The Commission continued it’s commitment to safety education and training by sending the Section’s safety training team to the annual Municipal Fire School at Texas A&M University where they provided fire fighters and first responders with LP-Gas safety information for use when responding to LP-Gas emergencies.
- Last year, the Oil and Gas Division’s Information Services provided more than 927,950 documents to customers upon their request. The Commission also launched an initiative to image historical oil and gas hearing files from 1930-2011. These paper files are accessed by citizens daily and occupy more than one mile of space in the Commission’s office in downtown Austin. Providing the images online will make the documents more accessible and ensure they are preserved in case of a disaster.
- The Commission hosted educational workshops, classes and seminars across Texas, including more than 300 propane training and certification courses. The Commission administered 50 pipeline and LP-gas education programs, and hosted a 2-day Oil and Gas Seminar in Arlington.
Looking ahead to 2012, the Commission will evaluate its rules for water recycling and new technologies for reclaiming water consumed during hydraulic fracturing. Educational seminars will be held in the Eagle Ford Shale region to ensure operators are informed of applicable regulations. New website content, including frequently asked question documents, will be posted to increase public awareness and understanding of the Commission’s role in environmental protection and public safety. The Commission will continue to build on the success of the Enforcement Roundtable with improved online reporting of complaint and enforcement data.