The Texas Tribune's Kate Galbraith reports that change is finally coming to the agency that was established by the legislature in 1891:
The Railroad Commission of Texas regulates one of the most advanced industries in the world — oil and gas drilling. Yet the commission’s software systems, many of its rules and even its name are from another era.- JP
As the 122-year-old agency confronts a drilling boom that is altering the state and national economies, an overhaul of its operations is under way. Its old mainframe computer system will be upgraded with modern digital storage, clearing the way for a more user-friendly website. Decades-old regulations are getting updated to reflect the rapid spread of hydraulic fracturing, or fracking. And the Legislature may change the commission’s name to accurately reflect what it does. (The commission’s railroad duties ended in 2005.)
The push does not go far enough for critics, who charge that the commission is too cozy with the industry it regulates and fails to adequately address environmental problems. Nonetheless, observers say there is a burst of energy, unseen in years, at the sometimes-languid commission.
The changes are “very important. They’re long overdue,” said John Hays, a partner at the Austin law firm Hays & Owens, whose clients include oil and gas companies.
The activity stems partly from new leadership. The Railroad Commission is headed by three elected commissioners, and each of the the current trio has arrived in the past three years.
The drilling boom, along with increased scrutiny from the public, the Legislature and federal regulators, has also forced the commissioners’ hand. Oil production in Texas rose by 18 percent between 2010 and 2011. That has strained the permitting and inspection capabilities of the commission, whose budget — $71.1 million this fiscal year, down from $74.7 million last year — has not kept up.