Special to The Leader
The Orange Leader
AUSTIN, Texas —
For the first time in more than two decades, the Texas rulebook for oil and gas operations is about to be significantly revised. Environmental and public-interest groups are praising draft regulations from the Railroad Commission of Texas.
Current rules haven't kept pace with the fastest-growing segment of the industry - shale gas extraction - according to Cyrus Reed, acting director of the Sierra Club's Lone Star Chapter. He says the new technology known as "fracking" requires new precautions. And he believes more than 14,000 such wells across the state have been immune from proper oversight.
"We've had a tremendous amount of production. It started in the Dallas/Fort Worth area and then south Texas, as well as in the Midland/Odessa area. But our rules are out of date, and so I think the Railroad Commission is recognizing that they need to update their rules."
The proposed standards focus on the structural integrity of the wells, to minimize the risks of surface spills and groundwater contamination. "Fracking" releases gas trapped in rock formations by shooting large amounts of pressurized water, chemicals, and sand deep underground.
Producers are expected to submit their comments soon. They want to preserve flexibility, and minimize reporting requirements.
Some environmental and citizens' groups have been calling for a complete moratorium on fracking, but Reed says that's unrealistic, given the strong national desire for energy independence. He thinks the technology can be relatively safe - as long as regulations keep pace with development.
"The big concern is we'll discover, you know, ten years from now: My God, we did all this, and now we've either used up too much water or we've contaminated some groundwater sources. So, the more we can do now to get good rules in place, the better off we'll be."
He says regulations can be good for the industry, too, since tough rules will likely reduce calls for eliminating fracking altogether.
State lawmakers could get involved if they don't like what the Railroad Commission comes up with. The agency's entire operations will be scrutinized by the Legislature in a mandated "sunset review" process next year. The public gets a chance to weigh in on that at a December 19 hearing in Austin.