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Texas Regulations

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One of the most underreported stories about energy right now is the attempt to drive pipelines through the Big Bend area, one of the most beautiful parts of Texas and one of the most iconic, not to mention relatively wild. Here’s a good story about it and the last-ditch effort to stop it. But I thought this was pretty amazing, even though I pretty much knew it already:

Disputes are left to the courts. According to the commission’s website: “In Texas, pipelines are not required to be permitted before being built. There is no statutory or regulatory requirement that a pipeline operator seek or receive from the Railroad Commission either a determination that there is a need for the pipeline capacity or prior approval to construct a pipeline and related facilities. Additionally, the Railroad Commission does not determine or confer common carrier status for pipelines.”

Nor under Texas regulations is there a minimum distance that a gas pipeline must be built from a property. All this worries Gibson, an engineer who lives and works at the McDonald Observatory. Reached by a twisty, hill-hugging road, telescopes housed in futuristic-looking domes use the area’s dark skies to explore the universe.

Sure, just do whatever you want Mr. Energy Developer. We are grateful for your sweet, sweet fuel. No need for any regulations at all.

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  • Karen24

    I was a hearings examiner for the RRC back in the ’90’s, overseeing among other things pipeline safety cases. We had, IIRC, fifteen inspectors for close to 100,000 miles of pipelines in the state, and many of those miles went through Houston. Our inspectors were actually very good and very conscientious, but there should have been 10 times as many to make things effective.

    • ThrottleJockey

      It seems like what they want down there. Even the put upon residents of West, TX oppose more regulations. So whaddya gonna do? Democracy is the theory that people get to decide for themselves. If they want a laissez faire free for all, well give them want they want, good and hard.

      • Moondog

        Do you genuinely believe that the “people” of Texas are in charge???

        Also, fuck you too. Seriously, fuck off.

        • ThrottleJockey

          I do.

          Also, Yo’ Mama.

        • Because nobody in Texas votes, this stuff just happens, right?

    • Gwen

      Karen,

      My recollection from Texas History in college is that the reason why the “Railroad Commission” regulates oil and gas is that during the 1920s oil boom, a lot of people in East Texas were constructing rickety (and dangerous) pipelines out of hollowed-out logs, etc.

      And since pipelines are a form of transportation, like rail, they were put under the RRCs jurisdiction.

      It was then only a short hop from pipeline regulation to oversight of well-spacing and other technical rules relating to oil and gas extraction.

      Has there ever been a point where the RRC wasn’t under-staffed?

      • Karen24

        Probably not.

      • Gwen

        For legal eagles, here is, in its glorious entirety, the entire chapter of the Texas Admin. Code (our state equivalent to the C.F.R.) related to pipeline safety:

        http://texreg.sos.state.tx.us/public/readtac$ext.ViewTAC?tac_view=4&ti=16&pt=1&ch=8

        Also, here’s the history, which I sort of mangled:

        https://tshaonline.org/handbook/online/articles/mdr01

        “Its importance to the state and nation, however, has rested on its authority over the energy industry. In 1917 the legislature granted the commission the authority to see that petroleum pipelines remained “common carriers”-that is, that they did not refuse to transport anyone’s oil or gas. Two years later, commissioners received responsibility for promulgating well-spacing rules. In the early 1920s the agency accepted jurisdiction over gas utilities. This gradually growing responsibility prepared the way for the enormous expansion of commission activity during the next decade. In the early 1930s unrestrained production from the huge East Texas oilfield caused the price of crude to plummet worldwide and created consternation in the industry. To stabilize oil prices and to help conserve the valuable resource, a coalition consisting of parts of the industry, scientists, and public officials attempted to have output regulated. This coalition was soon ably led by Ernest O. Thompson, who was appointed to a vacancy on the commission by Governor Ross Sterling in 1932.”

        So the RRC authority over pipelines actually preceded the discovery of the Black Giant oilfield.

        Nevertheless, I do remember hearing about all sorts of backwoods nightmare practices in the 20s and 30s, and that did in fact lead to the output regulation during the Ross Sterling administration (they even called out the National Guard to try to keep the oil in the ground!)

  • science_goy

    Texas also has an unusual legal framework where mineral rights trump surface ownership rights. In other words, if you buy a piece of property in Texas but someone else holds the mineral rights, there’s nothing you can do to stop them (or whichever oil company they designate) from building roads, installing structures and pipelines, and drilling for oil on your land. So much for the supremacy of private property owners.

    • Derelict

      That’s not uncommon in many areas of the West. Folks been living on the same land for three or four generations when some mining company shows up with a deed to the mineral rights signed by great-great-great granddaddy.

      • Thom

        This is also true in Louisiana. Don’t tell Patricia Seed, who wants to believe that the separation of mineral and surface rights is only true of Texas. This is a relic of Spanish law, and according to Seed goes back to Islamic law. Can we get TX to change by claiming this is “Sharia law?”

        • dp

          But in Louisiana, if the mineral rights aren’t used for a ten-year period, they revert to the landowner.

      • science_goy

        Interesting, didn’t realize it was that widespread. I found out about it from a conservative Texan, and was amused at his assertion that of course mineral rights holders should take precedence so that they can extract whatever’s there “for the common good,” whether or not the landowner sitting on the property wants them extracted.

        • ThrottleJockey

          You’ve got to understand that when he says “common good” he means his bank account. See that’s the name he has on the account, first name, Common, last name, Good.

      • DrDick

        That is what I was going to say. I think it is more the norm than the exception in the West.

        • CrunchyFrog

          In the 1970s we “owned” 40 acres of semi-arid land in southwestern Colorado, with El Paso Natural Gas (yes, real name) owning the mineral rights. My parents chose a plot that the gas company had already built a road on and had a well in the adjacent lot on the grounds that this was probably all the development the gas company would do. I drove by the land a few years ago and that turned out to be a good bet.

          BUT, my uncle then bought 2 40 acre plots just one plot over. We arrived one summer for camping on the land and one of his plots had been turned into a massive drilling platform with buildings all over it. All legal. When I did my recent drive by the gas company still had a major building presence on that land, 35 years later. The story we got from the locals was that the mineral rights were bought up when all the men were off to war and the grifters offered the wives at home, struggling to keep the mortgage payments up, these “deals”.

          • ThrottleJockey

            Even granting the fact that they owned the mineral rights, how does owning mineral rights grant rights to the surface?

            “Sure, you own the minerals, that’s fine, they’re all yours you can have them, but if you want to build a road–much less a fucking derrick–atop the plot where I have my house/farm/cabin/Burning Man parties then you’re going to have to pay me for the surface rights, dude.”

            OR is that conversation blocked by some ancient, Spanish common law???

            • Denverite

              https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Easement#Easement_by_necessity

              Anglo-American common law.

              [ETA: Also, the original conveyance is almost certainly going to expressly provide for an easement on the surface to reasonably access the minerals.]

              • CrunchyFrog

                Exactly. If you have such a property you should build stuff on it quick. Open space is not your friend if they find minerals on your property.

                And, on that note, when you drill for a water well it’s not uncommon to bribe the driller to hide any evidence of minerals he finds when he files his drilling report.

              • CrunchyFrog

                There was also a 60 minutes story on this in the 1970s about strip mining in Wyoming and Montana and how it made the cattle ranches essentially unusable. Guess which lobby was more powerful and won that little dispute?

  • Derelict

    I’m surprise Texas makes the pipeline people talk to anyone at all. Just the hassle of having to send a notice to the RRC is enough to make the free hand of the marketplace hide in a pocket.

  • Ken

    First “Urban Renewal”, now “Texas Regulations”. It’s Oxymoron Weekend here at LGM.

  • DrDick

    The oil and gas industry own Oklahoma and Texas and have since the 1910s/1920s. They have always gotten pretty much whatever they want. What is actually surprising is the extent to which Oklahoma has started to question that. (This may be the result of most of the industry relocating their headquarters to Dallas and Houston over the past 30-40 years.)

    • CrunchyFrog

      But even that will be mostly lip service. The oil industry, in conjunction with the general conservative media revolution, has turned 2/3 of the Oklahoma voting population into rabid wingnuts who will go to their graves believing that all the worlds problems are caused by hippies and blahs.

  • Forget it Jake. It’s Texas.

  • CrunchyFrog

    Mad magazine used to have an occasional series called “a shelf of extremely thin books” with titles like “Honesty in Politics” and so forth. Sometimes they would pair an extremely thin book with an extremely thick one, like two titles “Making it on Talent Alone” one by Katherine Hepburn and one by Raquel Welch.

    I don’t know if they still run the series and I haven’t read Mad since forever, but certainly a good book paring would be: (thin) “Texas Regulations on Business” and (thick) “Texas Subsidies to Business”.

    • ThrottleJockey

      Also a nice thin thick pairing: “Welfare Rights in Texas” + “Corporate Welfare Rights in Texas”.

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