Earlier this year, for the third time since 2010, the Sunset Advisory Commission of the 85th Texas Legislature has completed its review of the Texas Railroad Commission. It concluded that no major structural changes were necessary but emphasized improvements to the RRC’s oil and gas enforcement program instead.
What is the Sunset Commission?
The Texas Sunset Act created the Sunset Commission in 1977 to regularly review each state agency and assess the need for it to exist or to make recommendations to improve it. 130 state agencies are given an automatic termination (Sunset) date unless a bill is passed to continue it. During this process the commission is tasked with shining a light on the agency and looking for areas of improvement to streamline state government.
The Sunset has 12 members consisting of five members of the Texas Senate, five members of the House, and an appointed public member from both the Speaker of the House and the Lieutenant Governor. Each agency subject to an assessment typically gets reviewed by this commission every 12 years, but some agencies are not subject to an assessment and others require a special-purpose review determined by the legislature. During these reviews the public is invited to give their input by identifying issues and commenting on proposed changes. Anyone can participate during these reviews by giving their input to the staff of the commission, reviewing an agency’s publicly available Self-Evaluations, or testifying at a hearing.
Railroad Commission Review
Perhaps the foremost issue decided on this session was for RRC to continue operations for 12 more years. The majority of recommendations proposed by the Sunset Commission focused on monitoring and enforcement of the oil and gas industry. Since many of the recommendations are nonstatutory management rules – which are not enforceable by law – RRC is now required to implement a plan that tracks the effectiveness of this regulatory oversight. Production and transportation reports will be audited to ensure their compliance with lease severance orders. Production information is also to be posted on RRC’s website to make it easier for royalty owners to use.
Additional recommendations include updates to safety requirements and increased transparency. For example, the Sunset Commission recommended increased pipeline safety, damage prevention and new rules to prevent induced seismicity caused by disposal wells. They also recommended that contract administration become centralized and updated best practices for contracting are to be maintained. This will be done partly by requiring the executive director to report to the commissioners at their quarterly open meeting.
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