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May 2, 2016

Another 150 oil, gas workers targeted for job loss

Freeport-McMoRan layoffs slated for July 1-14 in Houston

Freeport-McMoRan Oil & Gas LLC plans to layoff 151 Houston workers during the first two weeks of July, the company informed the Texas Workforce Commission (TWC) April 29, as required by federal law.

“We have carefully reviewed our operations at Freeport-McMoRan Oil & Gas LLC in light of the recent declines in commodity prices and the current weakness in global economic conditions,” the company reported under the Federal Worker Adjustment and Retraining Notification (WARN) Act of 1988.

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By Polly Ross Hughes


May 2, 2016

Colorado Supreme Court strikes down local fracking/waste bans

State law (as in Texas) preempts city’s local ban, court says

An environmental group allied with the City of Denton’s ill-fated fracking ban in Texas decried a Colorado Supreme Court ruling Monday that state law preempts the City of Longmont’s bans on hydraulic fracturing and disposal of fracking waste.

The high court’s decision “overturns the democratically enacted measure to ban fracking overwhelmingly by Longmont residents in 2012 and strips all Coloradans of their Constitutional right to say ‘no’ to fracking in their communities . . .,” Earthworks, which had offered tactical support to Denton residents, responded in a statement.

Voters in the North Texas City of Denton overwhelmingly passed a fracking ban at the polls in November 2014, but the Texas Legislature swiftly overturned it via House Bill 40 (the state preemption bill) the following spring.

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By Polly Ross Hughes


April 29, 2016

Sunset report: Reveal to public what Railroad Commission really does

Report urges better oil and gas accountability, contested cases and gas utility rate cases moved elsewhere

The 125-year-old Texas Railroad Commission, which regulates the powerful oil-and-gas industry, might be “steeped in the Texas mystique,” but a name change revealing the agency’s true mission is long overdue, a report released Friday says.

“Transparency demands that the agency’s name reflect its actual mission,” said a Sunset Advisory Commission report for the Railroad Commission, strongly repeating a recommendation that Texas lawmakers rejected in 2001 and 2003. “The agency’s outdated name misleads the public and continues to impede the agency’s efforts to be more transparent.”

Friday’s sunset staff report begins a third attempt in six years to reform an agency critics say pampers the fossil fuel industry while shortchanging public health and safety. As the industry suffers from bankruptcies, layoffs and losses after a plunge in oil prices, it asked that lawmakers keep in mind its precarious financial situation when considering more or higher fees from the oil industry.

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By Polly Ross Hughes


April 29, 2016

RRC Sunset report sparks criticism on both sides

Sierra Club decries ‘glaring’ lack of ethics reforms, earthquake attention; Texas Alliance dislikes shifting contested hearings elsewhere, more robust enforcement, bonding rules

TER Editor: Response to the Sunset Advisory Commission’s Staff Report on the Texas Railroad Commission arrived swiftly Friday with the usual caveats about “first blush” reactions, but one thing was clear. Industry and environmentalists are already lining up on opposite sides of specific recommendations. Others, including the powerful Texas Oil & Gas Association and Texas Railroad Commissioner Ryan Sitton, played it safe. We decided to share the full responses with our readers, which act as a peek into legislative debates to come.

Sierra Club Conservation Director Cyrus Reed:

“While the Sierra Club and other citizen and environmental groups will be developing more robust comments in the coming weeks, at first blush, the sunset report proposes modest reforms to the Railroad Commission of Texas that would, if enacted, improve pipeline safety, require a needed name change, make enforcement practices more robust, ensure more adequate funding for the agency, require greater bonding and help maintain more independence by shifting contested cases to the State Office of Administrative Hearings and rate cases to the Public Utility Commission, where they belong.

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By Polly Ross Hughes


April 28, 2016

Energy Future Holdings says Oncor sale is dead, Reuters reports

EFH tells bankruptcy judge controversial $19 billion sale is off

Today an attorney from Energy Future Holdings (EFH) told a judge that its plan to finance its exit from bankruptcy by selling the Oncor distribution company, Texas largest electric utility, is history.

Instead, EFH hopes to offer an alternative in coming months after an investment group led by billionaire Ray Hunt and his son Hunter Hunt balked at conditions placed on the Oncor deal by the Texas Public Utility Commission. The deal, which would have turned Oncor into a real estate investment trust, had faced fierce and widespread opposition because it would have funneled a non-existent tax liability from ratepayers to investors and posed other risks.

The Reuters report is here.

By Texas Energy Report


April 28, 2016

Ranchers and anti-rail forces gearing up for eminent domain fight

Landowners surveyed for abuse tales; high-speed rail foes decry tactics

Ranchers fed up with the forced taking of their land with lowball offers from oil and gas pipelines, electric utilities and others are surveying landowners statewide and seeking their eminent domain stories.

The Texas and Southwestern Cattle Raisers Association (TSCRA), which is distributing the survey, said Thursday it’s been hearing a lot of stories about public and private abuse of eminent domain law, “and the stories are generally not good.”

The Texas Senate State Affairs Committee has already begun reviewing the issue of lopsided compensation negotiations, uneven court battles and possible remedies as one of its interim charges from Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick. Demands for more electric lines, pipelines, roads and rail continue increasing as the state’s population continues surging.

The condemnation process is “not a willing buyer, willing seller transaction,” the cattle raisers group contends.

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By Polly Ross Hughes


April 26, 2016

AARP pushes for legislative probe of Oncor deal

Calls compromise idea ‘government sanctioned theft’

The Texas director of AARP sought a legislative inquiry into a proposed buyout of Oncor, the state’s largest electric distribution utility, in a letter to Rep. Dan Flynn, R-Van, today.

The letter warned that the proposed sale of Oncor by an investment consortium led by Dallas billionaire Ray Hunt essentially poses “unacceptable risks” for Texas ratepayers, especially older Texans.

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By Polly Ross Hughes


April 26, 2016

S&P: ExxonMobil losses AAA credit rating

Downgrading shows even giants hurt by oil bust

Market Watch reports here.


April 25, 2016

Pedernales Electric Coop strikes deal for 15 MW of distributed solar

Generation on 15 sites promises affordable power at peak demand

Pedernales Electric Cooperative (PEC) and RES Distributed announced plans Monday to build 15 distributed solar generation sites in Central Texas to produce power at peak demand times and help offset high power prices in the market.

The Pedernales Electric Community Solar Project – each site will be built on five to seven acres and produce up to 998 kilowatts (kW) of power – is expected to produce up to 15 megawatts (MW) of power when completed in 2017.

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By Polly Ross Hughes


April 20, 2016

Oil patch woes in Texas still heading for more hard times

Industry economist points to 84,000 oil field jobs lost in 16 months

Hold on for more hard times in the oil patch, warned an economist for the Texas Alliance of Energy Producers this week, just as state budget writers started mulling thorny patches in the path leading to the next legislative session.

The oil and gas sector lost 84,000 Texas jobs during 16 consecutive months of decline in the Texas Petro Index (TPI) invented by petroleum economist Karr Ingham. But, that’s not all. Drilling rig counts, well completions and drilling permits are down, too.

So, despite a recent 28 percent increase in crude oil prices, the pain is likely to continue, he said.

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By Polly Ross Hughes


April 20, 2016

Oil downturn: Lots you wanted to know but were afraid to ask

Dallas Fed explores impact on jobs, wages, housing, banking and more

Diversification is helping to buoy the Texas economy during the oil and gas downturn, the key reason the state economy isn’t cratering the way it did back in the 1980s price crash, according to economists at the Dallas Federal Reserve Bank.

In its 2015 annual report, “After the Boom: Texas Economy Downshifts in Energy Bust,” essays by Fed experts also explore the impact of trade amid China’s slowdown.

The report explores the sudden reversal in Texas’ fortunes and economic outlook as the energy and trade sectors throttle down.

Take 2014’s job growth of 3.7 percent, which sunk to 1.3 percent in 2015 and is headed to about 1 percent.

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By Polly Ross Hughes


April 20, 2016

Lung Association fails Texas’ large cities on air quality

San Antonio ozone pollution improved, but only slightly

Air quality in San Antonio, noted for its proximity to the Eagle Ford Shale during the recent drilling boom, has improved with a slight cut in ozone, according to the American Lung Association’s new “State of the Air” report.

The trend of lower ozone pollution levels showed up nationwide, but the Lung Association warned the air remains harmful.

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By Polly Ross Hughes


April 20, 2016

Senate’s energy chairman Craig Estes endorses Wayne Christian

Estes says he looks forward to working with Christian on sunset review

Former Rep. Wayne Christian nabbed another key endorsement Wednesday from Sen. Craig Estes, the new chairman of the Senate Natural Resources and Economic Development Committee.

Christian is locked in a hotly contested race with newcomer and wealthy businessman Gary Gates of Fort Bend Country in the Republican primary for Texas Railroad Commission, the agency that regulates the oil and gas industry.

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By Polly Ross Hughes


April 19, 2016

Low oil prices mean tough times ahead for House budget writers

Comptroller warns of pending bankruptcies for one third of mining firms

House budget writers braced for the impacts of lower oil prices Tuesday as Comptroller Glenn Hegar predicted more energy-related bankruptcies to come and Speaker Joe Straus stressed pressing and fiscally “significant” state needs.

House Appropriations Committee Chairman John Otto, R-Dayton, began the panel’s meeting to study the impact of dwindling oil and gas revenues by quoting from a Straus letter sent to budget writers. It was part pep talk and part warning.

“Clearly the Texas economy is more diverse than at any point in its past and better able to weather the peaks and valleys of a volatile energy market. And you and your House colleagues have proven that you are willing to make difficult choices in order to keep our state living within its means. But there are challenges on the horizon that will require significant fiscal resources from the state,” Straus wrote.

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By Polly Ross Hughes


April 19, 2016

Manufacturers endorse former Rep. Wayne Christian for Railroad Commission

Leader says Christian’s RRC election would strengthen Texas manufacturing

The Texas Association of Manufacturers’ (TAM) political action committee endorsed former Rep. Wayne Christian Tuesday in the Republican runoff for Texas Railroad Commission.

Earlier Christian won the key endorsement of the Texas Oil & Gas Association’s PAC in his battle for the Republican nomination against Gary Gates, a wealthy businessman from Fort Bend County with residential real estate holdings in Houston.

The Railroad Commission primarily regulates oil and gas drilling and intrastate pipeline safety. The 125-year-old commission, which no longer has a thing to do with railroads, faces a sunset review and potential overhaul during the next legislative session.

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By Polly Ross Hughes


April 18, 2016

Straus names Larry Gonzales co-chair of Sunset Advisory Commission

Oil-and-gas regulating Railroad Commission faces third review since 2010

Texas House Speaker Joe Straus named Rep. Larry Gonzales, R-Round Rock, chairman of the Sunset Advisory Commission, which will conduct a review of the Texas Railroad Commission and recommend legislative changes for its future existence.

The RRC, which primarily regulates the oil and gas industry, defied attempts at corrective actions via legislative sunset bills during the 2011 and 2013 sessions. Both sessions, heavy lobbying killed legislation that at various points would have renamed the agency, changed its leadership structure and reformed campaign finance practices of its elected commissioners.

Straus on Monday also named Reps. Dan Flynn, R-Van; Senfronia Thompson, D-Houston; Cindy Burkett, R-Sunnyvale; and Richard Raymond, D-Laredo, as House members of the commission.

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By Polly Ross Hughes