Top Texas oil and gas regulators face allegations of conflicts of interest, as they can profit from the industries they oversee
The Texas Railroad Commission is responsible for overseeing the state’s oil and natural gas development, coal and uranium mining and the natural gas utility services.
A series of new reports alleges that commissioners’ close ties to and investments in the industry they are charged with regulating creates conflicts of interest, and the agency’s policies don’t do enough to prevent such “regulatory capture.”
According to the third in a series of report from state-agency watchdog groups, “at least one commissioner owns direct stakes in oil and gas companies that the Railroad Commission regulates.”
On Nov. 10, the three-member commission voted unanimously to advance the “securitization” of debt amassed when gas prices spiked during February’s winter storm. This means the $3.4 billion owed to natural gas companies will be passed along to Texas energy consumers, who could see an increase in their monthly bills for up to 30 years.
Why was this decision made and how could it affect ratepayers? What changes have been implemented or proposed to prevent a repeat of the February fallout? Why are certain entities being allowed to file for exemptions from new infrastructure winterization requirements?
How effective is the Railroad Commission at regulating oil and gas in Texas? Do the agency’s current policies allow its top regulators to prioritize industry interests and personal profit over the public good?
What role have industry campaign contributions to commissioners played in their decision-making about those very industries?
What reforms could be implemented to prevent conflicts of interest and ethical breaches in the future? Does the political will exist to do so?
- Virginia Palacios, executive director of reform advocacy group Commission Shift
- Mose Buchele, KUT energy and environment reporter
- David Prindle, Ph.D., professor in UT Austin's Department of Government and author of the award-winning book "Petroleum Politics and the Texas Railroad Commission"
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*This interview was recorded on Tuesday, November 15.