« President Christi Craddick has a proven history of taking principled votes that consider only facts and merit, » Craddick spokeswoman Mia Hutchens Hale said in a statement in response to POLITICO’s questions about the president’s ties to industry. . « These votes have led to greater security, protected our state’s natural resources and our environment, all while maintaining a regulatory climate that promotes energy independence and safety, and supports hundreds of thousands of jobs in communities around the world. » the state ».
Craddick didn’t provide direct answers to questions about whether she has withdrawn from decisions involving companies that have donated to her campaigns or in which she owns stock, or whether financial connections to industry influenced the commission’s actions.
An industry regulator and an ally
Despite its name, the Texas Railroad Commission has no authority over railroads—the state transferred that power elsewhere in 2005. Instead, the commission and its nearly 1,000 employees oversee a Texas oil and gas industry whose production is has soared since the fracking boom began more than 15 years ago.
The commission is also siding with many in the industry in opposing a proposed Environmental Protection Agency rule that would require oil companies to measure the amount of methane leaking from their operations, instead of relying on formulas that according to critics underestimate the amount. The EPA would offer cash to help pay for the new equipment, but it would also fine companies for losses that exceed the legal limit.
“The EPA’s excessive methane rules and unrealistic timeline are yet another example of the Biden administration’s attempt to shut down the oil and gas industry in Texas,” Craddick said in a press release in February.
EPA defended its proposal in response to POLITICO’s questions, calling it « sound » both under the Clean Air Act and the agency’s previous research.
The administration is also developing regulations to impose a tax on methane emissions from the oil and gas sector, as set forth in last year’s climate law. That law offers companies money to help them improve their pipelines, storage tanks and other infrastructure to reduce pollution.
As these fights unfold, Texas regulators are making the immediate decisions on methane releases in the nation’s top oil and gas-producing state.
In 2022, the commission approved 95 percent of applications for companies to burn excess gas, a process known as flaring, according to agency spokesman RJ DeSilva. At a March 28 meeting, the commissioners approved 11 flaring questions as part of a unanimous vote that sparked no discussion. The agency grants permits under a state law that allows companies to burn gas to relieve pressure on their systems or if pipelines are unavailable to transport it elsewhere.
Flaring is considered less harmful to the environment than letting the gas escape unburnt, but it still contributes to climate change by creating carbon dioxide. Critics of the practice say companies should store the gas or send it to market. The companies have argued that they have to burn because there aren’t enough pipelines to take the gas away.
About 91 percent of the methane sent to rockets is burned, with the rest escaping into the atmosphere. according to one study.
The railway commission claims it has helped reduce greenhouse gas emissions by requiring companies to « document more thoroughly the circumstances surrounding the need to burn gas.”
« Flaring in Texas has declined dramatically in recent years as a direct result of the commission’s action in revising the rules and procedures for flaring exceptions, » said DeSilva, commission spokesperson, in an email response to questions . He said the percentage of Texas-produced gas that is burned has decreased by 63% since June 2019.
Texas oil and natural gas producers vented or burned more than 7 billion cubic feet of gas in March, according to the latest monthly production report that companies submitted to the commission. Texas accounted for almost half of the US oil and gas industry’s methane burn and vent in 2019, even if the state counts only a a quarter of the country’s natural gas production and about 40 percent of its oil production, according to the US Energy Information Administration. As of December 2021, Texas methane venting and burning was down to about 37 percent of the national total, according to EIA data.
Critics have questioned whether the commission deserves any credit for reducing flaring.
BP, Exxon Mobil and other companies have cut their flaring under pressure from investors and green groups. But some smaller private companies continue to burn up to half of the gas that exits their oil wells, said Colin Leyden, Texas policy director of the Environmental Defense Fund, a non-profit organization that monitors oilfield flaring. and work with companies to reduce their emissions.
« The Railroad Commission has benefited from big companies and the shift in capital markets, but it’s still allowing latecomers to burn half the gas they produce, » Leyden said. « That’s a regulatory failure right there. »
The commission’s flaring data also combines wells focused on natural gas production, where flaring rarely occurs, with oil wells, where natural gas is often an unwanted byproduct and more likely to be vented or burned, Leyden said. That makes the problem in many wells look smaller than it is, she said.
The amount of methane emitted by oil companies has been vastly underestimated, the University of Michigan researchers concluded, because gas-burning towers often malfunction or simply don’t work. A study by the Environmental Defense Fund found in helicopter overflights that 10 percent of the signal towers in the West Texas oil fields were unlit.
However, the oil industry says it has taken steps to reduce flaring in the state, including through industry-led projects like Texas Flaring and the Methane Coalition and Environmental Partnership. The Texas Oil & Gas Association, a trade group, pointed out World Bank data showing a decline in the amount of flaring companies compared to the amount of oil and gas they produced.
« The Texas oil and natural gas industry is committed to environmental progress, has taken significant steps to reduce methane emissions and is on track to achieve even more gains, » said Todd Staples, president of Texas Oil & Gas. Gas Association, in a prepared speech.
Millions in financial ties
Craddick, an attorney and daughter of Republican former Texas House Speaker Tom Craddick, has served as chair of the committee since 2013. Her social media feeds are a mix of updates on meetings with state lawmakers and criticisms of the Biden administration immigration policies AND energy regulations.
He raised $1.5 million in campaign donations in 2022, nearly all from oil industry executives, lawyers and drilling service companies, according to a POLITICO review of campaign financial records.
His family also received $10 million in royalties from oil extracted from the land they own, according to a Texas Monthly survey.
Donors to Craddick’s campaign include NGL Water Solutions Permian, a Midland-based oil and wastewater company, and which found itself targeting a complaint filed with the commission in April 2020. The company’s competitors accused it of unduly delaying their permit applications to the commission by filing unsubstantiated complaints.
In October 2021, Craddick, Christian and Wright voted in favor of NGL Water Solutions.
Meanwhile, NGL Water Solutions’ donations to Craddick’s campaign fund — $22,500 in all of 2019 — increased in the year the complaint went to the commission. The company contributed $77,500 to its campaign in 2020 and another $75,000 in the first 10 months of the following year, as resolved by the committee.
NGL Water Solutions also donated $22,500 to Christian’s campaign in late 2019 and another $50,000 the following year.
The company later gave $150,000 to Craddick’s campaign, $60,000 to Christian and $125,000 to Wright from Dec. 1, 2021 to the end of last year, according to campaign financial records.
NGL Energy, the parent company of NGL Water Solutions Permian, did not respond to an email and a phone call requesting comment.
In addition to giving money, the industry made in-kind contributions to Craddick’s campaign. A Washington, D.C.-based political action committee controlled by Occidental Petroleum, one of the largest U.S. oil companies, hosted an event for Craddick’s campaign in September, according to his campaign finance forms. Oilfield equipment maker RJ Machine provided more than $12,000 in round-trip flights that carried Craddick hundreds of miles from Austin to El Paso and Midland, key hubs in the giant West Texas oil fields.
Occidental Petroleum and RJ Machine declined to comment.
Craddick also owns shares in some of the largest oil and gas companies in Texas, according to his personal financial disclosures, including Chevron, Pioneer Natural Resources, Chesapeake Operating, and fuel maker Phillips 66. in pipeline companies Kinder Morgan, Enterprise Products Partners and DCP Midstream, they showed personal finance data.
Christian raised $288,500 in campaign money from the oil industry in 2022, including $100,000 from Javaid Anwar, CEO of oil company Midland Energy.
In a prepared statement sent by Ryan Anwar, the son of the chief executive officer, Midland Energy said its internal goals on reducing its emissions fell « well below » those set by the EPA or the Texas Commission on Quality. environmental, “from now on we have no worries about our carbon emissions.”