LAREDO, Texas – Less than one year after approving a “final rule,” the Railroad Commission of Texas has proposed new amendments to their Critical Infrastructure Rule (§3.65, relating to Critical Designation of Natural Gas Infrastructure), which is meant to define which natural gas supply chain facilities may be required to weatherize. The proposed amendments will reduce the number of facilities that are required to comply with the weatherization rule – so much that Texas may not have enough gas production available to meet demand if we experience another winter weather emergency of the same magnitude as Winter Storm Uri.
Commission Shift submitted public comments on amendments to the Critical Infrastructure Rule Friday October 7th, which include a rubric evaluating the November 30, 2021 “final rule” against the new September 16, 2022 proposed amendments. The evaluation reveals a loosening of weatherization requirements and enforcement, while previously identified weaknesses in the November 2021 “final rule” remain largely unchanged.
- The commission stated that it is expecting facilities defined as critical in the amended rule to produce an average of 24.5 billion cubic feet per day (Bcfd). Data from S&P Global Platts showed that natural gas demand reached a record high of 27.6 Bcfd during Winter Storm Uri.
- Only oil and gas operators that are both designated as critical and are on the electricity supply chain map will be required to weatherize their facilities.The secrecy of the electricity supply chain map means the public has no ability to ensure the Railroad Commission enforces the weatherization rules.
- Operators that transfer critical assets will not have their contact information immediately updated on the electricity supply chain map, and will be responsible for transferring emergency calls to new operators in the event of a weather emergency, possibly for up to six months. This could create significant complications and delays during an emergency.
- The RRC could routinely grant exceptions to critical designation, just as frequently and generously as it does with inactive well plugging extension requests and flaring rule exception requests.
“Taken as a whole, the rule allows for broad exceptions for natural gas facilities to get out of weatherizing – which could leave Texans vulnerable down the road,” said Virginia Palacios, Commission Shift Executive Director.
The Railroad Commission could approve critical infrastructure rule amendments at their November 1, 2022 Open Meeting. If the rule is approved and filed on that day, it could take effect as early as November 21, 2022. They could also schedule a meeting before November 1, if they want to fast track the decision.
Highlights from Commission Shift’s comments:
- “Natural gas demand is constantly changing because Texas’ energy needs are constantly changing. The critical infrastructure rule must not only address that variability, but the RRC’s Critical Infrastructure Division must also develop systems and processes to regularly compare projected gas demand against the supply that can be produced from facilities designated as critical that are also subject to the weatherization rule.”
- “Another key vulnerability is that when operators transfer critical assets, their contact information will still show on the electricity supply chain map until the next critical infrastructure filing deadline. That means old operators will be responsible for transferring emergency calls to new operators in the event of a weather emergency, possibly for up to six months.”
- “It is not enough for the Railroad Commission to continue to operate through trial-and-error. The commission must graduate from being a reactive bureaucracy, to taking a proactive approach to public safety and stewardship of natural resources and the environment.”
See full comments here.
Commission Shift is a Texas-based nonprofit building public support to hold the Railroad Commission of Texas accountable to its mission in a shifting energy landscape. We educate and organize a wide array of Texans to build support for changes at the Railroad Commission that improve the agency’s function, transparency, and accountability to the many people and places impacted by the oil and gas industry.