Testimony of Virginia Palacios Before the Senate Committee on Natural Resources and Economic DevelopmentTestimonies

Commission Shift is a statewide nonpartisan nonprofit. Our mission is to build public support to hold the Railroad Commission of Texas accountable to its mission in a shifting energy landscape. We have collaborated with 36 environmental and community groups across Texas to review and comment on the Railroad Commission’s carbon dioxide CO2 injection well rule.[1] We submitted joint comments with many of these groups on the White House Council on Environmental Quality guidance to federal agencies on carbon capture, utilization, and storage (CCUS),[2] and we have engaged in dialogue with EPA Region 6 regarding the commission’s application for primacy to be the sole permitting authority for Class VI wells in Texas.

Texas produces more greenhouse gas emissions than any other state,[3] and we also happen to have some of the highest potential for geologic CO2 storage in the U.S.[4] The way we manage CO2 injection is of more consequence to communities in Texas than maybe any other state in the country.

The purpose of carbon dioxide injection in Class VI wells is to mitigate climate-warming CO2 emissions. As the Railroad Commission takes on this new responsibility, it’s important for the legislature to realize that the commission views its responsibility as purely related to enforcing safe drinking water act standards, and not keeping carbon dioxide in the ground.[5] All three of the railroad commissioners have either denied that climate change is human caused or have decried federal standards to limit greenhouse gas emissions.[6][7][8] The only thing that makes this activity economically feasible is large tax credits from the federal government.

CO2 is a colorless, odorless gas. Unlike natural gas (CH4), there is currently no chemical additive that can make CO2 odorous, such as mercaptan. Moreover, CO2 has a tendency to sink into low-lying areas after its release, causing risk of asphyxiation and death.[9] Thankfully the commission did accept our recommendation for operators to include emergency response procedures and alerts as a pert of their safety plans. In addition, we need the commission to ensure the public is fully informed about these risks before facility permits are approved.

This is supposed to be permanent storage, however the commission is going to allow operators to qualify for a monitoring period of less than 50 years for post-injection site closure. Commission Shift disagrees with this decision. Wells are likely to degrade over time, not improve, and as the commission allows additional injection and development either above or surrounding the facility area, conditions at these sites will change. If the post-injection site closure monitoring period is less than 50 years, that means the state will be absorbing the costs of any problems that occur with the site after the monitoring period ends.

Drilling wells for underground injection presents risks to water resources and threats to public safety as we are seeing all across the state right now with our existing Class II injection well program. We need the legislature to question why we would allow the commission to expose the public and our natural resources to additional risks if they don’t believe in the climate benefit of the injection in the first place.

[1] Commission Shift and 36 Texas-based organizations’ comments on “Amend re: HB 1284 (2021), RRC’s sole jurisdiction over carbon sequestration wells.” July 1, 2022. https://commissionshift.org/wp-content/uploads/2022/07/2022.07.01_TX-Based-Orgs-and-Indivs-Comments-on-RRC-Ch.-5-CO2-Rules.pdf

[2] Commission Shift and 20 Texas-based organizations’ comments on the Council on Environmental Quality’s “Carbon Capture, Utilization, and Sequestration Guidance,” 87 Federal Register 8808 (February 16, 2022 and March 16, 2022), Docket CEQ–2022–0001. April 18, 2022. https://www.regulations.gov/comment/CEQ-2022-0001-0101

[3] Friedrich, J., Ge, M., & Tankou, A. (2018). 8 Charts to Understand US State Greenhouse Gas Emissions. World Resources Institute. https://www.wri.org/insights/8-charts-understand-us-state-greenhouse-gas-emissions

[4] Medlock, K. B., & Miller, K. (2021). Expanding Carbon Capture in Texas. https://www.bakerinstitute.org/media/files/files/8e661418/expanding-ccus-in-texas.pdf

[5] Railroad Commission of Texas. August 30, 2022. Amendments to 16 TAC Chapter 5, relating to Carbon Dioxide (CO2). P. 5 of 133, lines 3 – 22. Retrieved from: https://www.rrc.texas.gov/media/0tta0c3k/adopt-amend-ch5-hb1284-epa-primacy-sig-08302022.pdf

[6] Christian, W. (2018, April 24). ICYMI: Commissioner Christian Column – “The science on climate change is not settled.” Railroad Commission of Texas. https://www.rrc.texas.gov/news/042418a/

[7] WFAA. (2020, October 17). Inside Texas Politics: How environmental protections factor into Texas Railroad

Commission race. [Timestamp: 7:30] https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ddey-4_sZAI

[8] Twitter. Oct. 2, 2021. @ChristiCraddick.https://twitter.com/ChristiCraddick/status/1444389975148085248

[9] Kuprewicz, R. B. (2022). Accufacts’ Perspectives on the State of Federal Carbon Dioxide Transmission Pipeline

Safety Regulations as it Relates to Carbon Capture, Utilization, and Sequestration within the U.S.


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