For Immediate Release
Sept. 25, 2020
Contact: Elisa Rochford
Texas Railroad Commission ‘Needs to Do Its Job,’ Says Castañeda
Failures Have Led to ‘Missed Economic Opportunity,’
The Texas oil and gas industry in 2019 discarded enough natural gas through the process of flaring to power the City of Houston. Repeated failings by the Texas Railroad Commission have allowed this widespread waste to continue, resulting in “missed economic opportunity” and “negative environmental impact,” said Chrysta Castañeda, the Democratic Candidate for Railroad Commissioner.
“The whole point of the Texas Railroad Commission is to make productive use of our precious natural resources,” said Castañeda. “The commission needs to do its job.”
Natural gas is a byproduct of oil production, but because of the cost to move it to market, many companies either release it – a process called venting – or burn it, an activity called flaring.
“This natural gas is an energy resource, and we’re spending billions to get it out of the ground,” Castañeda said. “We shouldn’t just light it on fire or let it escape to the atmosphere.”
Both venting and flaring are illegal in Texas. Venting is more difficult to address because it is not tracked and “there is a lot of unintentional venting that comes through leaking equipment,” Castañeda said.
Flaring is tracked but underreported, she said, and companies apply for exemptions to continue the practice. These exemptions can last years.
Castañeda added, “The commission handed out almost 7,000 flaring permits in 2019 and denied none. We need to reduce the number of exemptions and review those exemptions more frequently.
“We can’t just say, ‘Nobody gets to flare.’ But let’s figure out where the low-hanging fruit is first,” she said. “We need to focus on the companies that flare enormous amounts of gas, the ones that have a business model that depends on not following the law.”
Venting and flaring not only waste natural gas, the practice creates an enormous amount of air and environmental pollution.
“Methane is the primary component of vented gas. It is 80 times more potent than carbon dioxide as a greenhouse gas,” Castañeda said.
“Flaring is a little bit better because it at least consumes the gas, but it creates pollution – volatile organic compounds – and we know that women who live within three miles of a flare are 50 percent more likely to give birth prematurely. So, there is an environmental justice issue here,” she said.
There are a number of ways to capture and use the gas that is being discarded.
“It can be converted to electricity right there at the wellhead,” she said. “Companies can then use it to power their own operations so that they don’t have to buy expensive electricity off the grid.”
“They can sell the excess into the grid and actually get it to Houston where it could be used. Furthermore, if we were to put this power that is going to waste online then we would not be calling up coal-fired power plants in peak demand.”
Castañeda said she believes making use of the byproduct natural gas can drive new business growth in the Permian Basin.
“There are a thousand things we can do. Use the electricity out there to create a new economic base, stabilize some of the Permian and West Texas away from heavy dependence on these jobs that have these fluctuations.”
She said the Texas Railroad Commission should work on stabilizing the industry, something they have failed to do.
“Had the Railroad Commission done what it was asked to do back in May to stabilize the market we would not have lost the tens of thousands – heading into hundreds of thousands – of jobs, and the company failures wouldn’t be in the hundreds, they’d be in the dozens,” said Castañeda. “But they didn’t do it. They just flat-out refused to do anything.
“In their failure to meaningfully plan for these epic downturns, the Railroad Commission has let down every Texan,” she said. “This isn’t the first downturn; it won’t be the last one. The Railroad Commission was asked to do something to help stabilize the market and help stabilize job losses, and they said no.
“They said ‘No, we don’t even know how to do that anymore.’ Even though it’s been a part of their job for 100 years. That’s unacceptable,” Castañeda said.
She expressed concerns about her Republican opponent Jim Wright, who has been entangled in multiple lawsuits and environmental disputes related to an oilfield services company he founded. After the Railroad Commission held Wright and his company responsible for environmental violations, he agreed in 2017 to pay a fine of $181,000 to settle the case.
“If you can’t follow the law of the Railroad Commission, you shouldn’t be the Railroad Commissioner,” said Castañeda. “How can the people of Texas trust Mr. Wright to enforce the laws when he has broken them himself?”
“This is an important election with far-reaching consequences,” said Lillie Schechter, Harris County Democratic Party Chair. “The oil and gas industry impacts the daily lives of people who are not directly involved in drilling.
“Chrysta Castañeda will force the Texas Railroad Commission to do its job and enforce the law,” Schechter added. “In doing that, Castañeda will help put a stop to the waste and help the environment. That benefits Texans everywhere.”
Schechter said this race demonstrates the importance of voting the entire ballot – from start to finish.
“We no longer can vote a straight Democratic ticket on the ballot with a single check mark,” said Schechter. “We have to tick the box next to each Democrat for every race.”