February 2024

Executive viewpoint: TRRC opinion: Special interest groups are killing jobs to save their own

We all want clean air and water. We all want to be good stewards of our land and natural resources. And over the last 50 years, America has proven that oil and gas production and a clean environment are not mutually exclusive.
Wayne Christian / Railroad Commission of Texas
Texas Railroad Commissioner Wayne Christian

Throughout history, advocacy groups have played an important role in influencing policy and moving the ball forward for various issues. I started my career in politics as a grassroots activist and then a legislator, working with many of these groups to better the lives of Texans.  

Unfortunately, there is always a temptation for these organizations to grow from grassroots advocacy to full-fledged special interest groups, especially once they achieve their initial goal. You see, for many of the individuals involved, their livelihood depends on the continued existence of a problem. How can they continue to fundraise and maintain operations, if there is nothing left to achieve? They can’t. So, oftentimes they must manufacture a new bogeyman, simply to protect their jobs.  

Nowhere has this been more prevalent than the environmental movement.  

Environmental overreach. We all want clean air and water. We all want to be good stewards of our land and natural resources. And over the last 50 years, America has proven that oil and gas production and a clean environment are not mutually exclusive. During this time, the EPA’s major regulated emissions have decreased 77%, while the U.S. economy grew 285%, our population grew 60%, and our energy consumption grew 48%.  

This is an inconvenient narrative for environmental groups like the Sierra Club, Environment Texas, and Commission Shift, to name a few. If America is the cleanest industrialized country on planet Earth, how can they continue to justify their existence?  

Simple—through manufacturing a nebulous and seemingly unsolvable “climate crisis,” with constantly moving goal posts that can never be achieved and creating an enemy out of greenhouse gases like carbon and methane.  

It’s truly sad, because to protect their own jobs, they are willing to put hundreds of thousands of hardworking oil and gas employees out of work, spend trillions of tax dollars in debt in the form of subsidies, and increase the cost of energy, food, and consumer goods on everyone. 

An oppressive methane rule. This is why I was not surprised, but extremely disappointed, by a press conference that occurred earlier this week by a joint coalition of environmental groups opposing the Railroad Commission’s vote this week to sue the EPA over President Biden’s new methane rule.  

For those unfamiliar, this unnecessary rule started under the Obama administration, and its sole purpose is to decrease oil and gas production. This is why President Trump stopped the rule, helping America become the world’s top oil and gas exporter and become energy-independent for the first time in a generation.  

Unfortunately, Democrats reversed Trump’s order, proposed this new rule, and additionally created the first-ever direct tax on methane emissions as part of the $1.2 TRILLION so-called “Inflation Reduction Act.” Unlike most regulations that make commonsense exemptions for small mom-and-pop operations, this methane tax is a one-size-fits-all mandate that will likely be the final nail in the coffin of small producers that are barely getting by.  

Implications for marginal wells. The vast majority of oil and gas wells in Texas are marginal wells. In fact, approximately 70% of all the active wells in Texas are marginal wells. These are wells that produce less than 10 bopd and less than 250 Mcfgd. Individually, these wells might not seem like much, but collectively, their production adds up and provides an important contribution to our state’s energy portfolio.  

Keeping these wells in production not only reduces waste and the state’s plugging liability but provides funding for our schools, protects the stability of our electricity grid, and puts food on the table for thousands of Texas producers and royalty owners. 

Environmental groups’ lies. During the press conference, Environment Texas made the claim that “most of the oil and gas industry” supports the federal government regulating methane, name-dropping support from British Petroleum (bp) and Occidental Petroleum (OXY). This is a bald-faced lie. Naming a couple of major international corporations worth billions that support this initiative but can also afford to weather the cost of these new regulations, isn’t a sign that most of the industry supports it. In my discussions with small-to-mid-sized business owners from across the state, I have never come across one that isn’t vehemently opposed to this rule. 

These groups also claim that this rule will “save lives” and “save money.” These are both lies. If you shut down oil and gas, which this rule is intended to do, you jeopardize lives by taking away the vital resources that provide 80% of our energy and create nearly all the vital tools that make the modern world possible, like plastics, medicines, fertilizers and more. It also won’t save money, and only someone who has never worked in the business would say something like that. All regulations have costs, and most can be detrimental to smaller companies just trying to keep the lights on. If you think the compliance costs won’t be passed on to the consumer, you’re delusional. 

The bottom line is that this rule and new tax will directly harm 83% of U.S. producers, jeopardizing 11 million jobs and $1.2 trillion to the economy —all while harming consumers and the reliability of our electricity grid.  

The real facts. While I don’t believe carbon or methane emissions are a significant danger to the general public, even if one accepted that premise, the rule is unnecessary, because Texas is on top of the problem.  

Texas is the nation’s top oil and gas producer and has been working to decrease methane since the 2010s’ shale revolution. Texas’ flaring rate went from a high of about 2.4% in 2019 and has since stayed at record lows around 1%, meaning 99% of gas produced goes toward beneficial use. Methane intensity in Texas has dropped about 85% in the last decade, while it’s also down 66% in the country.  

How about the U.S.’s CO2 emissions? They’re also down, overall, about 13% from 2011-2021. Domestic oil production’s carbon intensity is 23% less than everywhere else in the world.  

When looking at Earth’s atmosphere, methane is a tiny fraction at about .00017% and is measured in parts per billion (ppb). CO2 is about .04% and measured in parts per million. Parts per million and billion, folks. The two largest gases in Earth’s atmosphere are oxygen at 21% and nitrogen at 78%. Catastrophists are making ant hills into Mt. Everest.  

Unintended consequences. All energy requires trade-offs; including wind and solar, which wouldn’t exist without oil and gas. President Biden’s new rules won’t reduce emissions any more than industry has already. It’s just going to move it overseas to dirtier, more hostile, producing countries like Russia and China. By the way, China is building two new coal plants per week, and Russian oil and gas is paying for Putin’s Ukrainian war. I hope Americans remember that fact next time Democrats lecture them about kitchen stoves.      

The real victim of the methane rule and tax will be the small oil and gas producers, many of whom have made Texas better, made America better. Those wildcatting trailblazers will go out of business, lay off employees, and shut in their wells, all because of the hyperbolic claims from these radical, special interest groups.  

The Railroad Commission is a world-class, respected agency that’s dedicated to encouraging a robust oil and gas industry, while maintaining the safety of the public and ensuring a healthy environment. In fact, the commission was commended by the EPA for protecting water and has won more than seven environmental awards for our regulatory operations. As Texas’ oldest agency, serving for 130 years, the commission has set environmental safety and regulatory standards for the state and nation, well before the U.S. Department of Energy and EPA were created.  

Anyone who would say otherwise is clearly pushing a never-ending agenda.  

About the Authors
Wayne Christian
Railroad Commission of Texas
Wayne Christian
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