By Alyssa Wallace, Commission Shift Field Organizer
Dec 1, 2023
The Informal Comment Period for proposed amendments to statewide rule 8, otherwise known as the “waste pits rule,” has concluded, and now it’s the Railroad Commission’s turn to evaluate the feedback received from the public. The RRC will take into account the suggestions and concerns raised by the public and decide whether any modifications need to be made to the proposal. Commission Shift’s goal was to make sure that residents most affected by existing waste pits took the time to give comments on the rule based on their personal experience.
I want to highlight their comments and concerns, as well as what we can look forward to in the formal comment period.
Community members from Nordheim and Orange Grove worked closely with Commission Shift to ensure that their past experience was considered in this rulemaking.
Tara Jones of Orange Grove brought up concerns surrounding distance, notice, reporting and penalties. In her comments, she states that “better waste tracking systems from wellsite to final disposal must be utilized to assure there are no discrepancies and waste being disposed of is only waste within the jurisdiction of the [RRC].” In August of this year, The Texas Tribune published an article on Tara’s experience with a Blackhorn Environmental Services site which was emitting a foul order and caused Tara, her family, and her neighbors to become sick with nausea. While Blackhorn was found to be in violation of receiving unauthorized waste, they continued their operations and avoided fines from the Railroad Commission.
Residents from Nordheim, also known as Citizens Against Pollution (CAP), wrote about their experience with the Petro Waste facility. Their concerns centered around the integrity of materials used at the site as well as the size of the facility compared to the town of Nordheim. Due to the close proximity of the site to the town, CAP is concerned about the “potential for residents’ exposure to toxic emissions (BTEX) being aerated from the solid waste drifting into town.” Additionally, those who share a fence line with the facility have had no other choice but to uproot their lives and leave because of noise, diesel emissions, dust and light pollution that come from the 24/7 facility.
In total, the Railroad Commission received 131 submissions. Commission Shift submitted 97 pages of comments and 557 pages of exhibits to ensure that this rulemaking is fortified with expert knowledge.
While members of the community made a great effort to provide their feedback on how the rule should be improved and why, so did oil and gas operators.
Earlier this year, community members along with Commission Shift made requests to the Railroad Commission to consider holding multiple hearings in districts. Over 150 emails were sent to the RRC from our action form urging them to consider holding public input sessions in impacted oil and gas areas.
The RRC ultimately decided on holding two hearings: one in person in Austin and the other virtually. While this could have been a great opportunity for the RRC staff to have a conversation with those who chose to participate, we felt that these hearings fell short. For example, neither of the hearings were recorded and there was no opportunity for dialogue. They were held early on weekdays, when not many folks could participate. It was also clear that industry professionals were largely aware of these hearings, and they made efforts to attend and state their concerns. Through an open records request, we uncovered that the Railroad Commission held several closed-door meetings with industry professionals to discuss the future of the rule. Ironically, many operators came out to say that the rule as is has been sufficient and that the changes will significantly impact the economic success of the oil and gas industry.
Texas State Representatives Tepper (District 84), Burrows (District 83), Darby (District 72), Lambert (District 71), and Price (District 87) outlined in their comments their concern “that the changes would lead to cost increases for well operators, especially smaller operations.” This letter also alluded to the concern that these proposed changes are a “one size fits all” regulation. These reactions are the same rhetoric we always hear from oil and gas operators, making them difficult to take seriously. Too often, we see the commission prioritize business profits over public health.
The RRC staff is now tasked with sifting through the comments received and will hopefully implement changes to the rule based on the many concerns raised from the public. Next, we are anticipating the formal comment period, which will follow a similar structure to the informal comment period. The difference is that under state law, the RRC is required to respond directly to comments. We expect the formal comment period to be kicked off in Spring 2024 at the latest.
These rules impact the entire state of Texas. We believe that everyone in Texas is a stakeholder in this conversation. Ideally, we want all members of the public to uplift the concerns directly impacted folks have outlined.
The Railroad Commission has concluded the informal public comment period for proposed amendments to the “waste pits rule” and will now assess the feedback received. Commission Shift’s objective was to ensure that residents who are most affected by waste pits provided their input based on their experience. We hope that the comments and concerns raised by the public will be taken into account as part of the formal comment period and will be considered for any modifications to the proposal.
Take a look at our interactive GIS map that shows the facilities of concern across Texas. Sign up for our newsletter to make sure that you receive updates on the formal comment period and other opportunities to engage with the Railroad Commission, our state’s agency for oil and gas.