Tuesday, September 07, 2010

Texans question whether state has enough oversight of drilling operations

Texas Railroad Commission inspectors personally supervised just 15.4 percent of the 10,140 surface-casings performed at drilling sites in the 12 months ending Aug. 31. The casing process, which has oil and gas operators sink steel pipe into the ground and cement it into place, is considered a key step in preventing water pollution at well sites, Jack Z. Smith of the Fort Worth Star-Telegram reports. Commission spokeswoman Ramona Nye said commission inspectors witnessed as many casings as possible, and for the rest, agency "geologists and engineers closely reviewed forms filed by oil and gas operators regarding well construction," Smith writes.

Nye explained that when operators make their filings, "they must declare, under threat of prescribed penalties, that the information is 'true and correct.'" Sharon Wilson, an organizer for the Texas Oil and Gas Accountability Project, joined with other critics in saying the agency is too close to the industry to regulate it, telling Smith the industry "has been running roughshod over Texas for decades." She added, "We have hundreds of drilling waste pits that have been abandoned all over North Texas or not covered up and properly remediated. All these are potential sources of water contamination."

Houston attorney Claude Cooke Jr., who has energy clients and worked in the oil industry, countered that regulators throughout the U.S. "have been doing a good job," and oil and gas operators and the contractors they hire have "a lot of financial incentive to do it right." Due to the recent boom in natural gas drilling operations in the Barnett Shale, the commission has been left understaffed, Gary Hogen, president of the North Central Texas Communities Alliance, told Smith. "We're not anti-drilling," Hogan said of the alliance. "We're very pro-responsible drilling." (Read more)

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