Laredo, Texas – At tomorrow’s Railroad Commission of Texas (RRC) open meeting, the agency is expected to vote to request that the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) put the RRC in charge of permitting carbon dioxide storage injection wells in Texas.
That would be a terrible idea.
“The railroad commissioners are on the record either deriding federal climate standards or saying they don't believe in human-induced climate change, disqualifying them from overseeing such a complex and significant technology,” said Virginia Palacios, executive director of Commission Shift.
Carbon dioxide capture and sequestration 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 has not sufficiently overseen drilling and wastewater injection here in the Permian Basin, where we are seeing saltwater breakout from legacy wells, and sinkholes damaging roadways. Carbon dioxide injection could add to these subsurface problems,” said Schuyler Wight, a rancher in Pecos County who has dealt with the fallout of legacy wells on his property.
The EPA will have the final say on whether to approve the RRC’s request, and 20 Texas-based groups have filed comments with EPA asking them not to put RRC in charge.
“Texas is the country’s largest carbon dioxide emitter because of the large oil and gas industries like we have here along the Gulf Coast," said John Beard, Chairman and CEO of the Port Arthur Community Action Network. “Our communities are exposed to enough emissions already from chemical processing, and we are not getting enough information about the solvents used in carbon capture or chemical byproducts. I don’t trust the Railroad Commission, or that this application is going to be safe for the environment and people.”
“The RRC has not centered environmental justice in its oversight of the oil and gas industries, and doesn't provide language accessibility to the public,'' said Yvette Arellano of Fenceline Watch in Houston. "TCEQ permits for carbon capture projects have included particulate matter, ozone precursors, and hazardous air pollutant emissions. These toxics lead to multigenerational harm, disproportionately in communities of color where language barriers are not addressed, leaving people in the dark."
The widely reported conflicts of interest among the railroad commissioners also raise questions about how transparently and effectively the agency would oversee carbon dioxide injection. Public participation processes will be a critical part of determining where carbon capture, utilization, and storage (CCUS) infrastructure gets placed, but the RRC has a poor track record engaging Texans in decision making.
The groups will continue to advocate for the EPA to oversee carbon capture in Texas instead of the Railroad Commission.