On Thursday, November 10, 2016, the Sunset Advisory Commission was called to order to announce decisions concerning the Texas Railroad Commission. The Sunset Commission is composed of five senators, five representatives and two public members appointed by the lieutenant governor and the speaker of the House. The Sunset Commission addressed seven issues outlined in the Sunset Commission report and adopted new issues.
Most notably, the Sunset Commission rejected part of the first of seven recommendations by the Sunset Commission staff – to change the Railroad Commission’s name to the Texas Energy Resources Commission to reflect the agency’s current functions. The Sunset Commission did adopt the Sunset staff’s recommendation to reauthorize the Railroad Commission for 12 years.
The remaining staff recommendations, including the suggestion to transfer oversight of gas utilities to the Public Utilities Commission and to increase statutory bond requirements, were generally rejected.
Colonel Allen West, a public member of the Sunset Commission, added a recommendation that the Railroad Commission be directed to incorporate the findings of the TexNet Seismic Monitoring Program.
With the recent decrease in oilfield activity, the Texas Railroad Commission has seen a $1.8 million budget shortfall in its pipeline safety program. Due to this budget shortfall, the Sunset Commission recommended the creation of a pipeline permit fee, which would assist in filling this budget gap. However, conservative Sunset members raised concerns about increased fees and costs, and recommended eliminating the fee once the budget shortfall is eliminated.
In opposition to industry requests, the Sunset Commission approved two recommendations. First, it recommended a requirement that the Railroad Commission “develop a definition of repeat violations” and report them on its website. The second recommendation directs the Railroad Commission to develop a definition of repeat violations and report the number of repeat violations on its website.
The Sunset Commission’s recommendations are just that and will require approval by the 85th Texas Legislature. This review by the Sunset Commission is the Railroad Commission’s third review since 2010.