Articles Posted in Texas Railroad Commission

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In response to substantial criticism of its original proposed rule, the Texas Railroad Commission has issued a final rule, 16 TAC Sec. 3.65, relating to designation of critical natural gas infrastructure. Well owners can no longer exempt their wells’ designation as critical infrastructure simply by filing a form and paying a $150 fee. The RRC will now itself classify gas wells, pipelines, gas plants and other natural gas facilities as critical based on its own criteria, and those facilities will be required to winterize. Gas supply facilities that require electricity to operate will be “critical customers” and are required to provide information to their electric suppliers.

The RRC will initiate a rulemaking later to adopt rules on what weatherization is required.

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Excellent article in the Texas Tribune about the failure of the Texas Legislature and regulators to require natural gas companies to winterize in the wake of February’s winter storm blackout. The Public Utility Commission did finally act to require utilities to use “best efforts” to winterize their plants, but the Railroad Commission has so far done nothing to force gas infrastructure companies to winterize.

A joint report by the North American Electric Reliability Corporation and the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission found that “87 percent of unplanned generation outages due to fuel issues were related to natural gas, predominantly related to production and processing issues, while 13 percent involved issues with other fuels such as coal or fuel oil.”

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According to an article in The Texas Tribune, senators on the Senate Business and Commerce Committee were frustrated that the Railroad Commission had not done more to require natural gas producers, processors and pipelines to winterize their systems. In a committee hearing on Tuesday, they castigated Commission Executive Director Wei Wang for not moving faster. They did not seem to realize that the Commission was following the timeline set out in Senate Bill 3, passed in the last regular session to address the power loss across the state last February.

As I’ve posted, the Commission has proposed a rule requiring the gas producers, processors and pipelines to designate whether they are critical infrastructure, but the statute allows the industry to opt out of that category if they want to, a loophole that seemed to surprise and frustrate the senators. Wang pointed out that the Commission’s proposed rule mirrors the language of Senate Bill 3, which seemed not to mollify the senators, who demanded immediate action from the Commission.

The statute provides that a committee will map out the state’s energy infrastructure by September 2022, after which the Commission will have 180 days to finalize weatherization rules, a timeline the senators also criticized.  As the Texas Tribune reported, “Energy experts said lawmakers have themselves to blame if they wanted the state’s natural gas infrastructure, which sends fuel to many of Texas’ largest power plants, to be weatherized quickly — or at all. ‘The Legislature left this loophole open,’ said Doug Lewin, an Austin-based energy and climate consultant.”

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Commission Shift, a non-profit advocacy organization formed “to hold the Railroad Commission of Texas accountable to its mission,” has issued a detailed report on conflicts of interest policies at the Texas Railroad Commission and the need for reform. The report examines Commissioner Christi Craddick’s ties to the industry regulated by the RRC. Future reports will focus on the other Commissioners.

Commission Shift previously issued a critique of the RRC’s annual monitoring and enforcement plan for FY 2022, and a report on the growing orphan well problem in Texas, “Unplugged and Abandoned.” House Bill 3973, passed in the last regular legislative session, created a committee to study abandoned wells.

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After the Texas freeze last February that resulted in loss of electric service to millions of Texans, the Texas Legislature passed laws requiring the Texas Railroad Commission and the Public Utility Commission of Texas to address the issues raised by the systems’ failures. One of those issues was the failure of natural gas supply to electric generators. Senate Bill 3 and House Bill 3648 require the RRC to collaborate with the PUC “to adopt rules to establish a process to designate certain natural gas facilities and entities associated with providing natural gas in this state as critical customers or critical gas suppliers during energy emergencies.” In response, the RRC has proposed a new rule, 16 TAC Section 3.65. The purpose of the new law is to let the PUC know what gas infrastructure is critical to continued delivery of gas to electric utilities during an electric supply crisis so that gas supply won’t be disrupted because gas suppliers don’t have the electricity necessary to operate their systems.

As explained in the RRC’s explanation of its proposed rule, the RRC proposes to designate all gas infrastructure as “critical.” The proposed rule therefor designates as critical gas suppliers and critical customers all wells producing gas and casinghead gas, gas processing plants, gas pipelines and facilities, compressor stations, local distribution company pipelines and facilities, gas storage facilities, natural gas liquids transportation and storage facilities, saltwater disposal facilities and pipelines, and “other facilities under the jurisdiction of the Commission the operation of which is necessary to operate any of the facilities” listed above. In its comments to the proposed rule the RRC explains that all of these facilities are “necessarily critical customers of electric entities during an energy emergency.”

The Commission chooses to include these facility types, located up and down the entire natural gas supply chain, because the statistics from Winter Storm Uri reveal that during the storm, every molecule of natural gas was important. … Each piece of the supply chain included in [the list of critical customers] contributes to the delivery of gas downstream. If one piece of the supply chain cannot operate, then the gas cannot be delivered for electric generation or other important uses. Further, daily gas production alone many not be adequate for peak demand during a weather emergency, which makes gas storage an important source of natural gas. Thus, natural gas storage facilities are included ….

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In a recent article, reporter Chris Tomlinson of the Houston Chronicle castigates Railroad Commission Chair Christi Craddick for testifying before a state legislative committee in March that the State’s oil and gas industry had no responsibility for the February power blackouts in Texas. Craddick testified:

Some media outlets would have you believe that natural gas producers and frozen transmission pipes caused the power shortage across the state, but I sit before you today to state that these operators were not the problem – the oil and gas industry was the solution. Any issues of frozen equipment or delays in process restoration could have been avoided had the production facilities not been shut down by power outages.

A recent report by twelve University of Texas at Austin faculty members, funded by the Public Utility Commission, contradicts Craddick:

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The recently completed session of the Texas Legislature several bills were filed addressing flaring from oil and gas wells — none of which passed. The number and variety of bills does, however, indicate the increased level of interest and concern about unwarranted flaring of natural gas.

HB 1377: Revises the Tax Code to eliminate the exemption from severance tax for gas “produced from oil wells with oil and lawfully vented or flared.

SB 1293 and HB 1494: Revises the Tax Code to impose a severance tax of 25% on flared gas.

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Today a district court in Travis County held that the Texas Railroad Commission violated the Administrative Procedure Act by informally adopting rules for issuance of allocation and production sharing well permits without following the rule-making procedures of the Act. The Court ruled in an appeal by a mineral owner of the Commission’s order granting a well permit to Magnolia Oil & Gas Operating for a well in Karnes County.

The case is Opiela v. Railroad Commission of Texas, No. D-1-GN-20-000099, in the 53rd District Court of Travis County. Judge Karin Crump’s order can be viewed here. Opiela v. RRC Final Judgment (003) Our firm represents the Opielas in the case.

Magnolia’s well, the Audioslave 1H, was originally permitted by Enervest as an allocation well. The Opielas protested the permit, and while the protest was pending the Commission issued the permit and Enervest drilled the well. Magnolia then took over operation of the well and filed an application for an amended permit for the well as a production-sharing well. That permit was also granted over the Opielas’ protest, and Magnolia fracked and completed the well.

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Texas Railroad Commissioner Ryan Sitton announced today that he would withdraw his motion to prorate Texas oil production prior to the Commission hearing tomorrow, saying “proration is now dead.” Commissioner Christian had previously announced his opposition; Commissioner Craddick is evidently also opposed.

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Commissioner Ryan Sitton has published his proposed conditional order imposing proration on oil production in Texas, to be considered at the Commission’s hearing on May 5.

Commissioner Wayne Christian, in an op ed in the Houston Chronicle, has come out against the proposal.

Sitton’s proposed order is attached to the Commission’s May 5 hearing agenda. His proposal follows the recommendation he described at the Commission’s prior open meeting on April 14. The Commission received 888 comments prior to that meeting, and more than 50 individuals presented live comments during the meeting.

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