Commission Shift Assessment of the Railroad Commission’s Annual Monitoring and Enforcement Plan for FY 2022

The Railroad Commission (RRC) has published their annual monitoring and enforcement plan for FY 2022, after a 30 day public comment period. No information about language accommodation was provided on the RRC website regarding the draft plan or the comment period. The final draft of the plan noted that the Commission received 17 comments through the Commission Conference email address that “included an objection to the plan only being available in English.”

Commission Shift submitted nine pages of public comments on the RRC’s draft plan. The commission received 17 comments on the plan (not including the 17 referenced above). The RRC did not publish the comments on its website, so Commission Shift requested all public comments through an open records request. You can read the public comments here.

It is worth noting that the survey the RRC used to collect comments did not allow text formatting, making longer comments like ours difficult to read. This format seems to have inhibited RRC staff, considering that the RRC made so few changes in their final draft of the monitoring and enforcement plan.

The only substantive change the RRC made to the final draft in response to our comments was that they included headers that describe the category of a group of rule violations included in Table 3.

The RRC did not correctly report the number of major violations in the draft plan.

In Table 2, the RRC reported only 12 major violations in FY 2020. In Appendix B, the RRC provides a definition of major violations that lists 14 specific rules. When this list of rules is compared against the number of violations by rule listed in Table 3, Commission Shift found that over 14,000 violations in 2020 were major or 44%. See details here.
Summary: Fiscal Year 2020 Violations by Severity
Number
Percent of total
Major violations
14,269
44%
Non-major violations
18,092
56%
Total
32,361
It is likely that the RRC reported incorrect data for some rule violations either this year or last year.

Commission Shift recommended that the RRC double-check the total number of violations reported for each rule, because in last year’s plan the number of violations for 16 TAC § 3.8(b) was on the same order of magnitude as those reported this year for 16 TAC § 3.8(d)(1), and vice versa. The RRC did not make any changes following our recommendation, nor did they respond with an explanation.
• 16 TAC § 3.8(b) prohibits water pollution. There were dozens of violations reported in FY 2020, but thousands reported in FY 2019.
• 16 TAC § 3.8(d)(1) has to do with prohibited disposal methods. There were thousands of violations reported in FY 2020, but only hundreds in FY 2019.
Over 2,200 violations were reported under 16 TAC § 3.13(b)(1)(B)(i) in last year’s plan, but that rule is not listed in Table 3 for this year’s draft plan. It seems unlikely that there were not any violations of this rule in 2020. Commission Shift requested an explanation.

The RRC did not make any changes following our recommendations, nor have they responded to our comments with an explanation.
The RRC did not complete its statutory mandate.

Following the 2017 Sunset Review process, the RRC has been required to prepare an annual monitoring and enforcement strategic plan.

The commission must seek input from stakeholders when developing each annual plan, and information must include the following:
• Data regarding the number, type, and severity of:
o Violations the commission found to have occurred
o Violations the commission referred for enforcement to the section of the commission responsible for enforcement; and
o Violations for which the commission imposed a penalty or took other enforcement action.
• The number of major violations for which the commission imposed a penalty or took other enforcement action; and
• The number of repeat major violations, categorized by individual oil or gas lease, if applicable.
In Table 3, the RRC reported the number of violations for each statewide rule. However, they did not include the severity of each violation in the table. Additionally, they did not indicate which violations in the table were referred for enforcement or which section they were referred to for enforcement. RRC did report in table 2 “Number of alleged oil and gas violations sent to Office of General Counsel Legal Enforcement,” however this does not include the type or severity of those violations. Additionally, while the RRC lists the “Number of violations for which the Commission imposed a penalty or took other enforcement action,” and the “Number of major violations for which the Commission imposed a penalty or took other enforcement action,” it does not indicate the type of violation. The commission could remedy these issues by adding columns to Table 3 indicating the number of violations by severity (major/non-major), and number of violations (by severity) where a penalty was imposed.
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