MICHAEL BRICK,Associated Press
AUSTIN, Texas (AP) — Seeking to clarify the mission of the agency that primarily regulates the oil industry in Texas, state senators on Thursday approved a name change.
Under a bill unanimously approved by the Texas Senate, the Railroad Commission would become the Texas Energy Resources Commission.
Founded in 1891 to regulate the railroads, the agency quickly extended its powers amid the big oil discoveries of the early 20th century. It has become a powerful national force influencing oil supplies and prices.
Last year, in a review of the agency’s work, state analysts from the Sunset Advisory Commission reported significant new challenges on the horizon with the expansion of the drilling technique known as hydraulic fracturing. They included complex matters of safety, pollution and the potential for damage to state infrastructure. But they opened their report with a more pedestrian issue.
“Despite its misleading name, the Railroad Commission of Texas regulates the state’s oil and gas industry and has nothing to do with railroads,” the analysts wrote. “The clarity of its name matters now more than ever as the Commission’s job takes center stage in overseeing an unprecedented expansion of oil and natural gas drilling in the state.”
While the bill would also give the commission new powers to charge fees and enforce regulations, senators seemed more concerned with the name issue.
Sen. Craig Estes, R-Wichita Falls, offered an amendment that would have changed the name to the Texas Energy Commission.
“I think it’s shorter and cleaner,” he said.
But he withdrew his amendment, deferring to a different name idea from Sen. Glenn Hegar, R-Katy, who suggested the Texas Department of Oil and Gas.
After a series of closely contested votes, during which the chamber grew uncharacteristically quiet, Sen. Robert Nichols, R-Jacksonville, managed to win the day on behalf of his favored name.
The proposal still must gain the approval of the House.
The new name, Nichols wrote in a bill analysis, should reduce confusion among voters.