Sunday, March 9, 2008

Texas Railroad Commission

It seems every time I question the safety of urban drilling, I am told not to worry because the industry is regulated by the Texas Railroad Commission (RRC). Sounds reasonable, right?

Since one of my main concerns is safety, I started to do some research. Here is what I have learned so far:

- TRRC claims to make decisions based on "public interest." However, in the past they have defined "public interest" as an increase in oil and gas production. Sounds like "oil and gas interest" to me.

- According to a recent audit, the agency employed 87 inspectors who conducted more than 118,000 inspections in fiscal year 2006. According to my math, that means that each inspector does an average of 1356.32 inspections per year. Based on a 48 week year (I'm assuming they take vacation and holidays), that is 28.25 inspections per week. So, they do an average of 5. 6 inspections per day. That leaves just over an hour to drive to the site (assuming these are on site inspections), do the inspection, write a report and take care of any other administration necessary. I pray my math is wrong.

- The 118,000 inspections resulted in a discovery of more than 90,000 violations. I don't even need a calculator to know how poor that is.

- Another gem from the audit is "Current policies do not prevent possible conflicts of interest." It has been proven that they receive gifts from the industry that the are supposed to regulate. Great, sounds like they have to fit long, expensive lunches into that busy inspection schedule.

-It seems that some wells are inspected poorly and some aren't inspected at all. 46% of the of the active oil and gas leases in Texas have not been inspected in the last five years. That means 79,046 wells have not been inspected in the last five years. Despite this fact, the commission continues to issue permits at an increased rate.

- One of the recommendations from the most recent audit was "The commission needs to consistently perform follow-up inspections to determine whether violations have been corrected." Great, they know there are problems but sometimes they don't make sure those problems are corrected.

- I am using the term "inspection" loosely here. All of the "inspections" are announced. I wonder how many problems are swept under the rug before the inspector gets there? I guess we will never know.

We must continue to ask questions regarding the safety of drilling in and around our neighborhoods. More importantly, we can NOT settle for the standard "we are regulated by the Railroad Commission" answer. We deserve more.

(In addition to the links above, you can read more here and here. )

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