AUSTIN, Texas (AP) — The abrupt resignation of Texas’ chief oil and gas regulator has exposed high-level rifts within an agency recently given millions in additional dollars to step up inspections, with one Republican leader accusing the powerful chairwoman of running a “dictatorship.”
Kimberly Corley, a former Shell Oil executive, submitted her resignation Thursday as executive director of the Texas Railroad Commission. She has held the position since 2016 after being hired the previous year and was a widely praised pick within Texas’ oil and gas industry, which critics have accused of being too cozy with state regulators.
Corley did not return phone messages Friday and state officials would not comment on what forced her departure.
“The agency needed to move in a different direction under the leadership of the Commissioners,” said Republican Christi Craddick, the commission’s chairwoman.
But Corley’s sudden ouster became apparent earlier this week when a public meeting of the agency’s governing board grew heated. Republican Commissioner Ryan Sitton accused Craddick of unilaterally forcing a change in leadership — at one point telling Craddick that “this isn’t a dictatorship.”
Sitton has since asked the office of Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton to weigh in on whether Craddick violated open meeting laws or exceeded her authority with her handling of the situation. Craddick has denied wrongdoing and criticized Sitton — who, like Craddick, is an elected officeholder — of creating “an opportunity for political gain.”
The public feuding comes at a time when lawmakers are pumping more money into an agency that has traditionally relied heavily on industry fees. One concern has been plugging abandoned wells and inspection — a year ago in Texas, the roughly $165 million price tag of plugging nearly 10,000 abandoned wells was double the entire budget of the agency.
Corley wrote in her resignation letter that she was proud to have secured “a robust budget” that would help increase access to information and improve transparency. The agency has long been criticized as not being transparent — right down to its outdated name, which has nothing to do with regulating railroads.
Follow Paul J. Weber on Twitter: www.twitter.com/pauljweber