Texas community members rally around waste pit impacts, rule changesPress Release

Laredo TX — Impacted community members across the state are gearing up as the Railroad Commission of Texas, the state agency in charge of overseeing oil and gas sites, is set to announce new amendments to waste pit regulations, which could threaten public health and participation.

The Railroad Commission of Texas (RRC) is expected to propose draft changes soon to the Statewide Rule 8 (SWR 8) on water protection (also known as “waste pit rules”) and Chapter 4 rules on commercial recycling.

In an open letter, Commission Shift is asking that the RRC hold meaningful public engagement sessions to discuss changes to the rule, as well as accept public comment from impacted individuals along with groups that represent the public and localities’ concerns about these rules. Currently the RRC has held no public workshops for this statewide rule, nor has the Commission solicited comments.

Waste pits are open air dump sites that the oil and gas industry uses for drill cuttings, tank bottom sludge, and other solid waste from drilling and fracking. Texas’ rules for waste pits are weaker than surrounding states when it comes to preventing pollution. There are hundreds of these sites across the state, with little accountability to the public. Concerns from those who live nearby waste pits include:

  • Leaching after heavy rains
  • Air pollution that causes nausea and vomiting
  • Infrequent safety inspections by the Railroad Commission
  • No penalties or enforcement after documented violations
  • Poor testing to see what kind of solid waste is being contained
  • Proximity to sensitive areas and public buildings like schools

Waste pit emissions also include greenhouse gasses which contribute to more frequent extreme weather and climate change. 

The Railroad Commission has previously drawn criticism for their close financial ties to the oil and gas industry, particularly Commissioner Jim Wright who owns over a dozen companies in the oil and gas waste industry. Since Wright was elected, Railroad Commissioners have voted to extend deadlines for pit cleanup requirements , lowered fines and fees for poor maintenance, and renewed permits for waste facilities that have histories of public health complaints and violations. See Commision Shift’s full Captive Agency report here.

The state agency has been working closely with waste companies it oversees in closed meetings to incorporate their feedback on SWR 8 for over two years now. Draft rules could be announced as soon as the next RRC virtual open meeting on August 22, 2023.

Highlights from Commission Shift’s Letter to the RRC

  • “Over the past year, the [Railroad] Commission has also invited industry and industry associations to send line-item edits and feedback on the draft proposals, hosting multiple, sometimes biweekly virtual working meetings to solicit comments and circulate new drafts as they evolved. None of those meetings (or circulation of drafts) have been open to the public or included representatives of local entities like groundwater conservation districts, towns or counties, or nonprofit groups that represent these interests.”
  • “If something is overlooked in the amendment of these water-protection and waste rules, it is not industry at risk of suffering the most, but the people whose lands and waters may be left polluted. With the public most at risk from regulated activities, it is in the public’s interest to have at least an equal seat at the table alongside industry in shaping this new rulemaking.” 

Read Commission Shift’s full letter here.


“My family lives near the Blackhorn Environmental waste disposal facility, a ‘state of the art facility’ that prior to permit renewal had no permanent, on-site air monitoring systems in place to protect both their workers and the community alike from volatile organic compounds (VOCs) or hydrogen sulfide (H2S) – a gas that can have fatal effects. Since 2019 when the facility was in its infancy, my family and many other families, as well as Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ) employees have experienced adverse health effects to include headache, nausea, metallic tastes in our mouth, vomiting, sinus pressure, and itching, burning eyes. Despite the facility’s many permit violations and community opposition, Blackhorn’s five-year operational permit was renewed with a unanimous vote by the three Railroad Commissioners in 2021. We are tired of asking for help and being ignored by the state agency that is supposed to exist for the benefit of all Texans.”

Tara Jones, impacted community member, Jim Wells County

“The Railroad Commission has an opportunity to let impacted communities lead the conversations and rules that will keep them safe from dangerous emissions and runoff. They have to live near these dangerous sites, so they deserve an equal seat at the table when it comes to their management. The RRC can step up and employ common sense improvements in safety, monitoring, and enforcement today, instead of hiding draft rules behind closed doors.”

Alyssa Wallace, Commission Shift Field Organizer

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