Texas Oil and Gas Regulators Adopt New Rule Meant to Protect Natural Gas Facilities from Extreme Weather – But Will It Be Enough?
Austin, TX – The Railroad Commission of Texas finalized new rule §3.66 or the “weatherization rule” relating to Weather Emergency Preparedness Standards at its open meeting on August 30, 2022. Hundreds of concerned Texans and organizations, including Commission Shift, called for the safeguards to be strengthened in order to ensure oil and gas companies follow the guidelines and prevent a repeat of Winter Storm Uri that resulted in hundreds of lives lost and millions without power.
Despite public concerns, the new rule maintains many of the same features, including the same penalty structure of a base fine of only $5,000 for operators in the highest class of violations, which could be difficult to qualify for. Other highlights in the rule include:
The Railroad Commission did make a couple substantive changes that Commission Shift recommended in our comments, including a change to the definition of “major weather related forced stoppage” to make it less subjective. This means that operators producing, transporting, processing, or storing very high volumes of gas must report forced stoppages during a weather emergency within one hour of discovery, and they will be required to obtain a weather emergency preparation assessment. These requirements are no longer at the discretion of the Critical Infrastructure Director. The Railroad Commission will now also be providing operators notice of their inclusion on the electricity supply chain map via email. Previously, operators were concerned that notice would only be sent by physical mail, which they said they often do not receive from the Railroad Commission in a timely manner.
The final rule will require operators to implement weatherization standards by December 1, 2022.
At the same August 30, 2022 open meeting, the Railroad Commission also proposed amendments to its Critical Infrastructure Rule (§3.65, Critical Designation of Natural Gas Infrastructure) that was just adopted in November 2021. These proposed amendments will reduce the total number of facilities that must comply with the weatherization rule. Comments on the proposed rule are due October 7, 2022. The final list of facilities that will be required to weatherize will be placed on the electricity supply chain map, further narrowing the population of facilities. The map is not available to the public.
“These rules do not guarantee that natural gas is a safe and reliable energy source for Texas,” said Virginia Palacios, Executive Director of Commission Shift. “The Railroad Commission is still accepting too much risk that endangers the public.”