Railroad Commission of Texas asks Legislature for $45M

Texas Railroad Commission asks lawmakers for $45M

HOUSTON (AP) — The Texas Railroad Commission is requesting nearly $45 million from the Legislature to hire more inspectors, upgrade its technology and reduce its inspections backlog.

The commission, which regulates the state’s oil and gas industry, intends to inspect every well in Texas at least once every five years, the Houston Chronicle (http://bit.ly/2kEl4Ml ) reported. But the agency said it has a severe shortage of inspectors and antiquated computer systems, which makes it difficult to track whether owners of wells have histories of violating state rules and regulations.

About 1,400 violations were issued based on inspections last year. A majority of the violations involved the failure to sufficiently plug inactive wells and protect water sources from toxic chemicals.

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Commissioners agree that they don’t know how widespread those problems are because two out of three wells go without inspection for about five years.

“We are nowhere near where we’d like to be,” said Kim Corley, the commission’s executive director. “We can produce reports out of the mainframe, but it’s not web-based, it’s not instantaneous and it’s kind of clunky. And until we get that money, we can’t upgrade.”

Data is currently stored on a 40-year-old system that can’t be accessed by commissioners, most employees and members of the public.

The Texas House has proposed to increase the commission’s budget by $35 million, but the state Senate has proposed cutting it by $13.5 million.

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The commission is expected to go before the Senate of Finance Committee to justify its requests on Thursday.

Republican Sen. Jane Nelson, the finance committee’s chair, said the Senate’s proposal will be the starting point for discussing funding levels for the commission.

“We will work to ensure that the resources are there to ensure a safe, thriving energy sector in Texas,” she said.

Having additional inspectors will help the commission, but it’s going to take years to clear the inspection backlog. The commission said in its budget request that 20 percent of wells would still be waiting for inspection for more than five years by 2019.