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September 23, 2016

Energy all-star panel reveals legislative game plan for oil and gas

Fast-tracking Railroad Commission Sunset, tapping $10 billion Rainy Day Fund and more

HOUSTON – A long-elusive sunset bill to reauthorize the oil-and-gas regulating Texas Railroad Commission for 12 more years will be fast-tracked next spring and stripped clean of such controversies as replacing the agency’s outdated name or moving certain functions elsewhere, a key lawmaker said Friday.

Rep. Larry Gonzales, R-Round Rock, chair of the Sunset Advisory Committee, promised members of the state’s leading oil and gas lobby that the RRC’s sunset bill will contain what members of his committee deem necessary instead of the traditional recommendations of the Sunset Advisory Commission staff.

“The idea is the (sunset) staff won’t write the bill. We the committee will write the bill. I would like to see the sunset legislation in the first 60 days. We’re going to take the Railroad Commission up early on the House side so it is not changed so much in May and becomes this terrible thing that won’t pass anymore,” said Gonzales, referring to the legislature’s practice of tagging otherwise dead or “zombie” bills on to sunset legislation.

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By Polly Ross Hughes

September 21, 2016

Deloitte annual survey: Oil execs see recovery on horizon, new optimism

Oil prices expected to reach $60-$80 per barrel, prompting investments

Doom and gloom of the past few years is finally leading to a “slow road back” to recovery in the next few, according to a new annual survey of oil and gas officials.

Deloitte’s “2016 Oil and gas Industry Survey: Optimism Emerges in the Aftermath of a Long Downturn,” shows nearly six in 10 industry professionals saying the recovery has already begun or will begin in 2017.

Industry executives said expectations for rising prices, a return to capital spending and actual headcounts are driving their sunnier outlooks.

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By Polly Ross Hughes

September 21, 2016

Residential solar company expands into Texas, via Austin

Texas, with rising solar adoption, represents a ‘compelling market’

Vivint Solar announced today it’s entering the Texas market with its full-service residential solar business, starting with the Austin Area.

Texas consumes more than one-eighth of the nation’s energy, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration, Vivint notes. That makes the state a compelling market, the company said, especially with the Solar Energy Industry Association estimating that Texas’ solar capacity grew 65 percent over the past year.

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By Polly Ross Hughes

September 21, 2016

Tom “Smitty” Smith’s (sometimes bumpy) but mostly Happy Trails

How state consumer champion cleaned Texas air while cutting energy bills

Tom “Smitty” Smith’s 30-year career of watching out for Texans’ pocketbooks ultimately helped clean the air they breathe, too. And, that was no accident.

The director of the Texas arm of Public Citizen, founded by consumer advocate Ralph Nader, announced Tuesday that he’s about to hang up his spurs and hand the reins to a yet-to-be-named successor. With luck, the man whose adopted “Happy Trails” as his trademark sign-off, will make his exit form the hallways of the Texas Capitol in the early months of 2017.

Were he not retiring, he would have turned his attention to the oil-and-gas regulating Texas Railroad Commission’s upcoming Sunset Advisory Commission review, Smith said in an interview with Texas Energy Report. But his main frustration as he departs is not having been able to stop the corrosive effect of special interest money on the Texas Legislature.

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By Polly Ross Hughes

September 20, 2016

Tom “Smitty” Smith, champion of good government and clean environment, retires

Watch for TER's closer look later today at Public Citizen’s longtime Texas leader

By Polly Ross Hughes

September 19, 2016

Bankruptcy court approves NextEra Energy-EFH merger, including Oncor

The proposed deal awaits approval by the Texas Public Utility Commission

The court overseeing the bankruptcy of Energy Future Holdings has approved NextEra Energy Inc.’s plan to purchase 100 percent of the reorganized EFH’s equity, including the majority interest in the electric delivery services of Oncor Electric Delivery Co., the state’s largest public utility.

NextEra Energy, which announced approval by the U.S. Bankruptcy Court for the District of Delaware, said it and Oncor plan to file a joint application soon with the Texas Public Utility Commission, seeking approval of the proposed deal.

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By Polly Ross Hughes

September 16, 2016

Supreme court dips into Denbury v. Rice Farmers, Part II

Justices ponder whether jury should weigh common carrier facts

The ability of Texas farmers, ranchers and landowners to successfully rebuff a pipeline claiming common carrier status with powers of eminent domain hangs in the balance once again at the Texas Supreme Court.

Yesterday the high court heard opposing oral arguments that could either solidify landowner rights or, depending on one’s perspective, significantly weaken them.

Pipelines, meanwhile, say the case is important in deciding at what point a pipeline must show evidence of its common carrier status in order to avoid costly and uncertain jury trials and landowners demanding “extortionist amounts of money.”

The case pitting the Denbury Green Pipeline-Texas LLC against James E. Holland and David C. Holland, rice farmers and cattle ranchers in southeast Texas, returned Thursday to the high court, which ruled for the brothers back in 2012.

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By Polly Ross Hughes

September 15, 2016

Libertarian Mark Miller gets DMN nod for Railroad Commission

‘Persuasive moderating voice on panel that too often tilts toward industry’

Two years ago, Libertarian Mark Miller amounted to a third-party also-ran in the race for Texas Railroad Commission. Today, however, he just landed his second endorsement for the oil-and-gas regulatory agency from a major Texas newspaper.

The Dallas Morning News formally endorsed Miller, a former petroleum engineering professor at the University of Texas at Austin, for the agency that regulates pipeline safety and energy mining, mostly the powerful Texas oil and gas industry. The endorsement follows a “wholehearted” thumbs up for Miller from the Houston Chronicle, the largest newspaper serving the self-proclaimed “Energy Capital of the World.”

“Admittedly, Miller is a long shot for a seat on a three-person panel that Republicans have dominated since the early 1990s,” wrote the newspaper, arguing that the retired engineer with a Ph.D. from Stanford University could provide a “persuasive moderating voice on a panel that too often tilts toward industry” interests.

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By Polly Ross Hughes

September 14, 2016

It’s BACK! Texas Supreme Court returns to Denbury-Green

Once again, court mulls, should jury decide if pipeline is a common carrier?

Tomorrow the Texas Supreme Court returns to a case that rocked the Texas pipeline industry with its pointed questions about when, exactly, a pipeline can (or can’t) take private land in the name of a public good.

If you listen to Texas Rice Land Partners and other landowners, the case, Texas Rice Land Partners Ltd., James E. Holland, David C. Holland, and Mike Latta v. Denbury Green Pipeline-Texas LLC, feels a bit like déjà vu all over again.

The landowners, challenging the pipeline’s claim to seize their land under eminent domain law, say the case is still pretty straightforward:

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By Polly Ross Hughes

September 12, 2016

Report: ‘Beginning of End’ of Texas coal-fired power industry

Rising competition from wind, solar, natural gas changing ERCOT market

Economic forces – especially increased competition from wind, solar and natural gas – are contributing to the decline and likely demise of coal-fired electric plants in Texas, argues a new study released today by the Institute for Energy Economics and Financial Analysis (IEEFA).

The report, “The Beginning of the End: Fundamental Changes in Energy Markets Are Undermining the Financial Viability of Coal-Fired Power Plants in Texas,” is the latest to predict a bleak present and future for aging coal-fired power plants in the Lone Star State.

“The discussion should shift now to how to phase out these plants, what to replace them with and how to retrain their workers,” the report written by David Schlissel, director of resource planning analysis for IEEFA, concludes.

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By Polly Ross Hughes

September 10, 2016

3 of 4 RRC candidates dislike so-called Denton fracking bill

Republican missing at forum; Democrat, Libertarian, Green Party show

House Bill 40, passed by state lawmakers two years ago to overturn the Denton fracking ban and much more, drew fire Saturday from three of the four candidates for Texas Railroad Commission.

The Railroad Commission, about 40 interested voters learned, is 125 years old and regulates the powerful oil and gas industry, not railroads.

Libertarian Mark Miller, Democrat Grady Yarbrough and the Green Party’s Martina Salinas asserted that the bill, powered through the Legislature in 2015 by the Texas Oil & Gas Association (TXOGA), amplified the powers of elected RRC commissioners. Yet, polls show the agency’s mission is clearly understood by only five percent of Texas voters.

The RRC’s longstanding rights to regulate below-surface oil-and-gas operations preempt local authorities’ rights under HB 40. The law also gave industry operators a stronger hand statewide over the more limited surface regulatory powers of municipalities.

Republican Wayne Christian, who supports HB 40, declined to show up for the forum sponsored by Public Citizen Texas and Common Ground Texas. A representative of the latter group said Christian cited a family medical emergency.

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By Polly Ross Hughes