View by Date
Printable Version of This Page

March 3, 2015

Darby: Give RRC “preemptive right” to regulate fracking

House Energy Chair takes lead on bill arising from Denton ban

House Energy Resources Committee Chairman Drew Darby plans to file a bill this week or next that would give oil and gas regulators at the Texas Railroad Commission “preemptive rights” to regulate activities – such as hydraulic fracturing – that take place beneath the surface.  

The bill is expected to address who rules – the state or local governments – when it comes to hydraulic fracturing activities inside a city’s limits. A cornerstone provision would establish a “preemptive” right for the Railroad Commission to regulate oil and gas drilling and completion procedures beneath the surface.  

The bill, which was still in draft stage at the Legislative Council on Tuesday, is the latest legislation to emerge in response to Denton’s fracking ban, passed by the city’s voters last November. It is not yet clear whether the bill could apply retroactively to Denton’s fracking ban, which won handily with local voters there.

The Rest of the Story, Subscribers Only

By Polly Ross Hughes

March 2, 2015

Bush: GLO, TXOGA might consolidate fracking ban suits

Land Office suit in behalf of school kids moves to Denton

Texas Land Commissioner George P. Bush said Monday that the General Land Office’s lawsuit challenging Denton’s fracking ban has been moved to Denton County where it might be consolidated with a similar, pending oil and gas industry lawsuit.

“It is what it is,” Bush told industry officials at the annual meeting of the Texas Independent Producers & Royalty Owners Association in Austin.

“Ideally, it would have been great to be in Tarrant or Parker (County),” Bush said, noting that those North Texas counties in the Barnett Shale have learned to coexist alongside urban drilling.  

The Rest of the Story, Subscribers Only

By Polly Ross Hughes

February 26, 2015

When the Texas oil economy begins to sputter

Low oil prices could cut ‘gangbuster’ growth in half

Texas economic growth in 2015 could slow by one-third to one-half of its “gangbuster” pace last year, according to the Dallas Federal Reserve Bank, and the primary culprit is the plunging price of oil.

Dallas Fed economist Jason Saving offered that prediction this week as members of the House Business & Industry Committee asked how the Texas economy would fare now that oil prices have dropped 50 percent to about $50 a barrel since last summer. Saving noted that his testimony was based on research conducted by the Dallas Fed’s Senior Economist Keith Phillips from the San Antonio branch.

“The energy sector is consolidated relative to the 1980s in a couple of states, including Texas,” Saving said. “That consolidation means that still, oil prices – when they are low – have an impact here that are on net, negative.”

So, when Texas Comptroller Glenn Hegar told the committee that state residents in the South Texas Eagle Ford Shale or the West Texas Permian Basin are likely to be hurt the most, even losing their jobs, that’s true. And it’s also true, as Saving said, that lower gasoline prices at the pump translate for most Texans into more than an $800 annual “pay raise.”  

The Rest of the Story, Subscribers Only

By Polly Ross Hughes

February 26, 2015

TXDOT gets nearly $800 million for dangerous energy roads

Barton: Plans for 300 projects cover more than 2,000 miles

Dangerously damaged energy roads, crumbling under intense energy activity in recent years, are set to receive nearly $800 million in repairs, according to testimony Thursday by a Texas Department of Transportation official.

“I’d say it’s getting close to the $800 million range,” TXDOT Deputy Executive Director John Barton told the House Transportation Committee, noting the agency planned to approve a large share of the energy road projects within hours.

Shortly after Barton testified, TXDOT approved $525 million to fix the roads, some of which have been linked to increased accidents and fatalities in South Texas’ Eagle Ford Shale.

The projects approved by TXDOT Thursday, from the current budget cycle, amount to 30 percent of the $1.74 million in highway funds approved by voters in November. The funding proposal, Proposition 1, received 80 percent approval from Texas voters.

The Rest of the Story, Subscribers Only

By Polly Ross Hughes

February 24, 2015

President Obama vetoes Keystone pipeline bill

TransCanada remains committed; environmentalists fiercely opposed

President Barack Obama vetoed a mostly Republican bill Tuesday that would have authorized construction of the Keystone XL pipeline bill without his administration’s approval.

As he vowed to do, the president killed the latest effort in a six-year battle to green-light TransCanada Corp.’s cross-country pipeline to transport 830,000 barrels a day of heavy oil sands (aka tar sands) from Alberta, Canada to refineries along the Texas Gulf Coast.

The Rest of the Story, Subscribers Only

By Polly Ross Hughes

February 24, 2015

RRC gives final approval to new common carrier rules

Starting March 1, pipelines must do more than simply check box

A humble little administrative form is about to bite the dust, but not before first garnering scorn from the Texas Supreme Court for allowing pipelines to simply check a box and self-declare their common carrier status.

The notorious one-page form faces the circular file starting March 1 when its new and more stringent version debuts at the Texas Railroad Commission. The commission gave final approval to its revised pipeline permitting rules Tuesday.  

The old T-4 Form is at the heart of a battle that has raged over the power of pipelines to declare themselves common carriers and then exercise powers of eminent domain to seize private land, a power usually reserved for governmental entities.

The Rest of the Story, Subscribers Only

By Polly Ross Hughes

February 24, 2015

Abbott taps Craddick for Southern States Energy Board

Setting standards for technically advanced industry

Gov. Greg Abbott appointed Texas Railroad Commission Chairman Christie Craddick on Tuesday to the Southern States Energy Board (SSEB), an interstate compact organization made up of 16 states and two territories.

“I am honored to serve as Gov. Abbott’s designee to this vital organization,” Craddick said in a statement. “As attorney general and now as governor, he has long shared the vision that energy production is best regulated at the state level. As we work together, we will keep Texas and all states first in the responsible development of our nation’s vast mineral reserves.”

The Rest of the Story, Subscribers Only

By Polly Ross Hughes

February 23, 2015

Should PUC do gas utility rate cases? Watson asks

RRC takes fire for limits on cities challenging rate hikes

Sen. Kirk Watson, D-Austin, suggested to Texas Railroad Commission Chairman Christi Craddick Friday that it might be time to turn gas utility rate cases over to the Texas Public Utility Commission instead.

The subject came up during a Senate Finance Committee hearing when Watson told Craddick that cities are unhappy with the Railroad Commission for passing rules the cities contend limit their jurisdiction in gas utility rate cases.

Indeed, cities complained the day the rule passed last December that it would tilt the advantage in future rate cases to gas utilities. More pointedly, the Texas Municipal League accused the commission of “doing the bidding” of CenterPoint Energy while ignoring the concerns of cities and “thumbing its nose” at the Legislature. (See TER: “RRC sides with big gas utility, upsetting cities,” Dec. 10, 2014).

The Rest of the Story, Subscribers Only

By Polly Ross Hughes

February 21, 2015

A Texas Clean Power Plan? Or, ‘Just say no!’

Legislature must weigh in on EPA climate change rule

The Texas Legislature, despite difficult politics, could try to preserve the state’s competitive electric system while still meeting upcoming federal climate change rules, according to environmental and energy experts at an Austin energy confab this week.  

But failure to give state regulators the authority to come up with a state plan to meet upcoming carbon-cutting rules could force Texans to live under an EPA-imposed Clean Power Plan instead, said panelists at the University of Texas at Austin’s UT Energy Week.

The timeframe for state officials to act is problematic, at best.

Lawmakers, who arrived in Austin this January for a regular legislative session, are set to leave town in June, a month or so before the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency announces its final rule requiring big cuts in carbon emissions from electric power plants.

Texas would then have one year to come up with its own plan to meet the federal rule or, by default, live under a federal plan. As proposed now, President Barack Obama’s sweeping and transformative initiative to fight climate change requires Texas to cut carbon pollution 39 percent by 2030, with a steep early ramp-up requirement by 2020.

The Rest of the Story, Subscribers Only

By Polly Ross Hughes

February 17, 2015

Energy management companies praise electric efficiency report

Commission on Texas Energy Efficiency releases blueprint for change

The Advanced Energy Management Alliance (AEMA) applauded a new study’s recommendation Tuesday that demand response programs be added for all classes of electric customers as part of a strategy to expand energy efficiency options in Texas.

Demand response basically pays consumers large, medium and small who volunteer to cut their electric use during peak demand or also when prices rise sharply during shorter lived electric supply shortages.

The AEMA is seeking legislation this session to make it possible for a demand response market to form and participate in the electric grid managed by the Electric Reliability Council of Texas (ERCOT). Several companies in other states already aggregate residential customers and others to manage demand response systems as a service, while larger commercial users such as Wal-Mart and large apartment complexes would like the opportunity to benefit from demand response systems.

The Rest of the Story, Subscribers Only

By Polly Ross Hughes

February 17, 2015

Craddick: Fracking bans won’t stop RRC from issuing drilling permits

On earthquake links to oil waste wells, ‘the bottom line is we don’t know’

Denton fracking ban or not, the Texas Railroad Commission doesn’t pay attention to local ordinances when it issues drilling permits, Texas Railroad Commission Chairman Christi Craddick said Monday.

“The Railroad Commission will still be issuing permits. It’s not the Railroad Commission’s job to know what local ordinances are,” Craddick said, speaking at the UT Energy Summit on the campus of The University of Texas at Austin.

If a city has a particular ordinance, or in Denton’s case, an outright ban on hydraulic fracturing, that’s an issue between the city and the company, she said.

“We believe that companies should work and have a social license to operate when they’re working within communities and try to work with them. But they also have to follow the rules for ordinances,” Craddick said.

The Denton ban, passed by voters last November via a citizens’ initiative, has already prompted two lawsuits from the state that argue it is the Railroad Commission’s job, not the job of cities, to regulate oil and gas drilling.

The Rest of the Story, Subscribers Only

By Polly Ross Hughes