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Railroad Commission of Texas Should Not Be in Charge of Overseeing Carbon Sequestration

July 11, 2022

“Don’t hand the keys to someone who has proven they are an unsafe driver”

Last week Commission Shift and 36 Texas-based organizations and individuals filed official comments with the Railroad Commission of Texas opposing the commission’s application to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to be the sole permitting and oversight authority over carbon sequestration wells in Texas.

Commission Shift has argued that the railroad commissioners are on the record either deriding federal climate standards or saying they don't believe in human-induced climate change. Moreover, the new injection wells will be held to the RRC’s same financial assurance and inactive well plugging extension rules that have allowed nearly 8,000 orphaned wells and 140,000 inactive unplugged wells to accumulate across the state. Out of the inactive wells that operators are still on the hook for, over 17,000 are more than 20 years old. This pattern of behavior and poor oversight disqualifies the Railroad Commission from overseeing such a complex and significant technology.

“Don’t hand the keys to someone who has proven they are an unsafe driver,” said Commission Shift Executive Director Virginia Palacios. “The Railroad Commission’s track record of inadequate oversight means that the U.S. EPA should remain in charge of carbon injection wells in Texas.”

Carbon dioxide capture and sequestration (CCUS) refers to a suite of technologies that includes capturing emissions from power plants, moving the carbon to an appropriate location and then injecting it deep underground where it must remain for thousands of years. This process is meant to reduce emissions into the atmosphere and prevent further disruptions to the climate. The Railroad Commission already has jurisdiction over intrastate carbon dioxide pipelines that start and end within the state. Its primacy application to the EPA could give the commission sole authority over carbon dioxide injection wells.

Read the full comments here.

Highlights from Commission Shift’s official comments:

“Many of our communities in the Texas Gulf Coast, the Eagle Ford Shale, and the Permian Basin regions are predominantly people of color, low income, and/or are already overburdened by heavy industrial activity and poor state oversight. Environmental justice communities in Texas will continue to be disproportionately affected by CCUS strategies, and our communities’ concerns and proposals deserve serious consideration.

“The Railroad Commission has not fulfilled its duty to protect underground sources of drinking water in Texas, its monitoring and enforcement program fails to steward natural resources and the environment or protect personal and community safety, and it is clear that commission leadership lacks the necessary care and understanding of the importance of preventing failures with carbon dioxide infrastructure.

“As Texans, we are all too familiar with state agencies ignoring our concerns and requests for information, and we are well aware of the unequal leverage that private industry has over state agencies compared to the public. Nonetheless, we submit that it is vital for the commission to participate in dialogue with the public in an effort to resolve potential conflicts posed by Class VI carbon dioxide injection.”

Read the full comments here.

The groups will continue to advocate for the U.S. EPA to oversee carbon capture in Texas instead of the Railroad Commission.

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