Texas Railroad Commission

Eddie Seal/Texas Tribune

An inquiry by the agency that regulates the oil and gas industry in Texas has found that oil and gas activity did not likely cause a swarm of earthquakes around the north Texas towns of Azle and Reno starting in 2013. The finding, however, flies in the face of a peer-reviewed scientific study of the quakes.


Update: Ryan Sitton defeated Steve Brown in the race for Railroad Commissioner 58.31 percent to 36.49 percent.

Original Story (Nov. 4, 4:14 p.m.): An empty seat on a strangely-named state regulatory agency usually flies under the radar of voters. But the race to serve on the Railroad Commission of Texas has gained additional attention and importance this election. That’s because whoever wins will not oversee railroads, as the name suggests, but will regulate the Texas oil and gas industry. It’s an industry in the midst of a boom that’s transforming global energy markets and pumping billions into the Texas economy.

The two major party candidates competing for the seat offer starkly different visions for what the job entails.

Oliver Berg DPA/LANDOV

From StateImpact Texas: 

After a surge in earthquakes across Texas over the last several years, state regulators are considering their options. On Monday, the House Subcommittee on Seismic Activity heard some of those options.

Many of the quakes are likely caused by wastewater disposal wells, where the liquid waste from oil and gas drilling is pumped back into the ground. The Railroad Commission of Texas is the agency that regulates the state’s oil and gas industry, and it is proposing new rules for those wells.

Mose Buchele

From StateImpact Texas:   

In an often-quoted scene from the 2007 movie "There Will Be Blood," sociopathic oilman Daniel Plainview meets his rival for the last time. If oil fields are like milkshakes, he says, it pays to have a straw that reaches all the way across the room “and starts to drink your milkshake.”

“I. Drink. Your. Milkshake,” Plainview screams maniacally, “I DRINK IT UP!!!!”

This year, Texans will have the chance to vote for  a seat on the Railroad Commission of Texas. But the commission has a lot more to do with milkshakes than railroads. It regulates oil and gas in Texas.

Terrence Henry/StateImpact Texas

From StateImpact Texas: 

The North Texas towns of Reno and Azle have seen over thirty earthquakes since November, sometimes more than one a day. It’s been unsettling for residents like Barbara Brown.

“Damage to my home, sinkholes on my property. Nerves! And a lot of angst,” she said. “Because you just don’t know when they’re going to happen again.”

Mose Buchele for KUT

In today’s meeting of the Railroad Commission of Texas, the state Agency that regulates the Texas oil and gas industry, Commissioner David Porter announced the search for a staff seismologist in response to the rash of small earthquakes that have sprung up throughout the state along with the boom in oil and gas production.

Residents around Eagle Mountain Lake outside of Fort Worth have had a shaky few months. Dozens of small earthquakes have struck the area out of the blue. The Dallas-Fort Worth area is not known as a place that’s prone to earthquakes. In fact, before 2007, there were no recorded earthquakes in the area. Since then, there have been hundreds.

Studies of other swarms of earthquakes to the south in Johnson County and around the Dallas-Fort Worth airport have shown disposal wells to be the culprit, where wastewater from oil and gas drilling is injected deep underground. Inject enough wastewater, at the right pressure, and it can cause quiet faults to slip, resulting in earthquakes.


As part of the debate over guns and violence, there’s a new twist developing in Texas: the head of one state agency is proposing that its employees should be provided training so they can legally carry a concealed handgun on the job.

The agency has inspectors that enforce the rules on the state’s surging oil and gas drilling industry.

Photo courtesy flickr.com/wadeferd

Moontowers Temporarily Taken Down

An Austin moontower on the corner of West 22nd and Nueces streets has been temporarily dismantled due to a nearby construction project, and another on the corner of Trinity and Cesar Chavez is slated to move over to Third and Red River.

Austin is the only city in the world that still operates under a moonlight tower lighting system, made up of those ethereal structures that provide large areas of illumination and – as every "Dazed and Confused" fan knows – the occasional party.  According to the Austin American-Statesman, Austin Energy plans to refurbish the towers that have been removed, and because of their designation in the National Register of Historic Places, any repairs have to be historically accurate. You can read more from KUT News about the towers.

Photo courtesy of Texas Tribune


Texas Railroad Commission employees will now be able to carry concealed firearms as they go about their work, following a unanimous vote on Tuesday by the three commissioners.

"[Railroad Commission] employees often work alone in remote and desolate areas of the state where they may encounter criminals or dangerous wild animals," Barry Smitherman, the newest commissioner, said in a statement. "The least we can do is allow them to exercise their legal right to carry firearms in accordance with state law.”

Photo by rcbodden http://www.flickr.com/photos/rcbodden/

With 270,000 miles of gas and oil pipelines in Texas, how closely do you think the state is monitoring the lines under its supervision? Consider that two deadly pipeline accidents happened last year in Johnson County and the Panhandle.

According to a new report from the Texas State Auditor, the Texas Railroad Commission (TRC) inspected 65 percent of high priority pipeline systems. The report also found that the TRC’s own inspection plan is incomplete and lacks accuracy.

However, the report found that the TRC inspection regime was “substantially in compliance” with state and federal regulations.

Photo by PUC Commissioner

Gov. Rick Perry is moving Barry Smitherman from the Public Utility Commission to the Texas Railroad Commission, replacing Michael Williams, who resigned earlier this year to run for Congress. Smitherman was sworn into office this afternoon by Texas Supreme Court Justice Don Willett.