As Nov. 3 nears, conversations about the presidential election are pervasive. However, there are also critical races further down the ballot, one of them being for a seat on the Texas Railroad Commission.
The Texas Railroad Commission deals with oil and gas, and is responsible for regulating the industry in the state. Voting for this position is a decision that should not be taken lightly, as the commission’s actions have a large impact on the oil and gas industry and the environment.
Chrysta Castañeda, the Democrat on the ballot, is running on protecting and enforcing laws against flaring of natural gas and limiting methane and other emissions through leak detection, prevention and education. She wants to help her industry understand its impact on climate change and change the name of the commission to make it more transparent. The Republican on the ballot, James Wright, is running on securing the border to protect infrastructure and the oil and gas industry. He also wants to protect private property rights of land and mineral owners. And the Libertarian Matt Sterett, who is also concerned about excessive gas flaring, sees reserve fraud as the industry’s biggest issue. Sterret doesn’t see much of an issue with gas lines and believes gas flaring preserves the “limited gas resources Texas has.”
“[The Texas Railroad Commission] is a regulatory agency that everyone votes for but no one ever knows what they’re voting for,” Government teacher Kiley McAbee said. “It’s on the ballot towards the end [and] it doesn’t even regulate the railroads anymore. They regulate and oversee most importantly oil and gas.”
The Railroad Commission is the oldest regulatory agency in Texas and now primarily regulates the oil and gas industry, pipeline safety and gas utilities. The transition from railroads to oil and gas occurred over more than 70 years until it ceased railroad operations in 2005.
“[I know] they’re talking about in this upcoming election changing their name,” McAbee said. “I think people truly don’t know what it is, and they don’t know what the Railroad Commissioners do [and that if they] could change their name it would give it more recognition.”
A major issue in this race is flaring, which is the burning of oil in order to collect the unwanted gases to be flared. Instead of doing this, oil can be cleaned and reused to power cities all across Texas.
“[The Democratic party] has been talking about flaring and trying to add more regulations to what oil companies should have to do instead of burning off what they don’t use,” McAbee said. “[Crysta Castañeda] reusing and cleaning [the oil] and I know that she really wants to add more regulation whereas typically [the commission’s] stance has been really deregulated.”
McAbee sees a few environmental issues at the forefront of this race, the larger one being flaring and the amount of oil that is put to waste each year in Texas. If this oil could be cleaned it would be reused as energy for our state to use running transportation and electricity.
“The [issues] that [stand] out to me [are] flaring and methane,” McAbee said. “There’s a parallel that can be drawn right now with fires going on in Oregon and California and people [that] have been complaining that it’s hard to breathe. That’s the same kind of reaction people will have to too much methane pollution.”
Currently all three commissioners are Republican. If this seat flips, it might influence the actions and power of the Commission in years to come.
“I do think the parties really matter in the oil and gas industry,” McAbee said. “I think right now all three commissioners’ policies are pro-deregulation, and by electing someone pro regulation, it could change the dynamic.”
Disclaimer: An attempt was made to interview the candidates and both failed to show up for the interview.