Jeff Weems announced his candidacy for Texas Railroad Commissioner today in Austin, and he was in Lubbock tonight for his very first campaign house party. I got a chance to meet him, and I am impressed.
With Jeff Weems we have a candidate who knows the oil and gas industry inside and out from the point of view of all the involved parties — the companies, the rights owners, the citizens. He is running to return the Texas Railroad Commission to its proper regulatory, unbiased role. He will make the Commission do its job.
The Texas Railroad Commission was created as a watchdog for the people (originally farmers vs. railroad companies, but now utilities in general vs. the little guy). Under Republican rule it has become a do-nothing agency that always rules in favor of the pipeline company or utility company (in that order) — 59 decisions in a row, even.
Jeff spoke passionately about the need to regulate out-of-control fracking that’s going on in Texas. Fracking is where a million+ gallons of water are pumped underground to crack underground rock formations and release trapped natural gas. (The Bluedaze blog by TXSharon is one of the best resources out there for discovering the many dangers of fracking.) This technique is used commonly in the Barnett Shale area around Ft. Worth, and it’s causing all kinds of problems — even earthquakes. The water used in fracking is so chlorinated and otherwise polluted that it can never be potable, and in fact is so toxic that it can’t even be used for subsequent frack jobs. On top of all that, eminent domain claims — which go unchallenged and unregulated by our TX Railroad Commission — are literally running allowing pipelines to run through people’s front yards in the Ft. Worth area.
Weems also talked about the epidemic of wasted natural gas caused by aging equipment in the field. Such waste is bad for the companies, bad for the environment, and deprives the State of Texas of millions of dollars in tax revenue — enough to cover all of SCHIP, in fact. This is another area where a regulatory nudge from the TX Railroad Commission could do wonders for our State.
The negotiations between cities and utility companies on natural gas prices are another area where the Commission needs to change its ways. If a municipality and a utility company can’t work out a price, the dispute comes before the Commission, which hasn’t met a utility company it didn’t like. This phenomenon explains why Houston’s natural gas costs consumers 4 times what ours does out here in Lubbock.
Another major area of reform is with the Commission itself. Texas Railroad Commissioners can accept campaign contributions any time except when the legislature is in session. They serve six-year terms. That means that they can accept money years before or after elections. I believe that it gives the appearance of bribery and corruption, especially with the current Commission receiving big donations from the companies it rules in favor of. Weems wants to make the Commission obey contribution rules like judges, who can only accept contributions near an election.
Weems took a couple of appropriate jabs at his opponent Victor Carrillo. His inaction on the above concerns was mentioned, as was his unethical use of campaign funds to travel to Israel with Governor Perry in 2006.
There is a lot of damage to be undone and positive work to be accomplished on the TX Railroad Commission. The Commission is a powerful check on abuses of power by the energy industry, and the Texas GOP knows this. They run candidates for Commisisoner who do nothing while waiting to run for higher office (e.g. Michael Williams), and they take every opportunity available to limit, shrink, or eliminate powers of the Commission. In the last legislative session, they were nine votes shy of putting a constitutional amendment up for vote that would replace the 3-member Commission with one lone Commissioner.
Jeff Weems is who we need fighting for the people on the Texas Railroad Commission.