Posted on 02 April 2014.
Some key issues facing Wise County residents were on the table Friday evening at a forum sponsored by Concerned Citizens for Responsible Industry.
The group hopes to stop the injection wells it says are directly related to the rash of earthquakes that rattled northwest Tarrant, north Parker and south Wise counties late last year. But the forum at Boswell High School in Saginaw touched on several broader topics.
Ten candidates, for offices ranging from governor to state representative to Texas Railroad Commission to Tarrant Regional Water District board, introduced themselves and fielded questions from the crowd of fewer than 50 people.
Ironically, the forum came on the day the Texas Railroad Commission announced it had hired a seismologist in response to the earthquakes (see below).
On the stage were four Libertarians, two Green Party candidates, two non-partisan Water Board candidates and two Democrats – including Decatur’s Matt Britt, who is running for state representative in District 61.
The absence of Republicans was duly noted. Mark Miller, a PhD petroleum engineer who taught at UT Austin for 18 years, cut to the chase in response to a question about halfway through the evening.
“I can tell you why the Republicans aren’t here tonight,” the Libertarian RRC candidate said. “I’ve heard them speak about the earthquakes. Every one of them denied that there is any connection between the earthquakes and wastewater injection.”
The question, which came from Wise County Democratic Party Chair Tracy Smith, tossed a barb at the Republicans but also challenged the Libertarians on the issue of regulating the oil and gas industry.
Smith said the problem is “there’s not enough regulations, and the regulations that are on the books are not being enforced.”
She characterized the Libertarian Party as “a delusion of Republicans who believe in limited government” and said “clearly [that] is what we’re getting now under the Republican regime.
“So why should we trust that more deregulation, as your party’s platform says, is what Texas citizens need in this case?” she asked.
Kathie Glass of Houston, who is running for governor, said the current regulatory environment is “as far from Libertarian as you can get.”
“We don’t have freedom,” the Libertarian candidate said. “We have too much control by the special interests, and the special interests control both the Republican and the Democratic parties. They’re two peas in a pod.
“What’s going on here is not libertarian,” she said. “It’s cronyism. The rich and powerful use the structure and machinery of government to get more rich and powerful – to achieve power that they never would have achieved in the free market.”
Miller, also a Libertarian, added that Libertarians do believe there’s a role for government.
“We have somewhat of a misconstrued reputation of being almost anarchists, and you folks are asking for some protection,” he said. “True Libertarians believe your liberty needs to be protected. One of the roles of government is to protect your liberty.
“The rights of a mineral owner are different from the rights of a surface owner,” he added. “They conflict in many cases, so one of the jobs of a regulatory agency such as the Railroad Commission is to help resolve those issues so that liberties are preserved for everyone, and that economic interests can proceed, mineral rights owners can get some value out of their property, people can have jobs, taxes are paid – at the same time, without intruding on your enjoyment of your property.”
Steve Brown, the Democratic candidate for Railroad Commission, said the agency needs to be an advocate for the public rather than the oil and gas industry.
“Of the three-member commission, at the very least one person should be there representing the interest of everyday Texans,” he said. “There’s a crony atmosphere, a crony culture at the Railroad Commission that needs to change.”
Citing a recent legal battle in which a community group had to hire a lawyer to get their message heard, he noted, “Not everyone has $100,000 to make sure the right thing is done in this state. That should not be your burden as taxpayers, to have to to find the resources to fight your battles. You should have folks you elected to fight your battles and help you fight those battles.”
Miller said he had three themes in his campaign for the Railroad Commission: increasing the public’s confidence and trust in the agency; reforming and modernization of the agency’s regulations; and protection of surface owner rights.
“The Railroad Commission has arguably done a pretty decent job of resolving conflicts between folks with economic interests – mineral rights owners, small oil companies, major oil companies, pipelines,” he said. “People who have surface rights but no economic interests are often left out of the equation.
“That’s something some of you have been experiencing, and something that needs to change.”
Brown, who visited Decatur last month, said he has issued a press release calling for a moratorium on injection well operations until the state agency can state with confidence that the earthquakes are not a result of injection wells.
“The approach we take as a state agency right now is to put the burden of proof on you, to prove to the state that a link does exist, as opposed to putting the burden on the state to prove that a link does not exist,” he said. “It should be the other way around.”
Brown said government that doesn’t represent its people is a failed government.
“We talk about government as some supernatural entity that we feel like we can’t control,” he said. “Government is people – it’s the people we elect.
“Every one of us has a state representative, a state senator, that we elect. It’s not one of those things that everyone hates Congress but they love their congress person. No. You can’t separate the two.
“Your government is your state representative, and if your state representative isn’t speaking for you on these issues that matter most to you, then they’re not serving you well,” he added. “They are the government that’s failing you – not some unknown entity, but that person, is failing you.”
BRITT MAKES POINTS
The person Decatur’s Matthew Britt is opposing, Republican State Rep. Phil King, is seeking his ninth term in the Texas House. King was listed as one of those who would be at the forum – but he did not attend.
Britt, who ran as a Green Party candidate two years ago, will be on the ballot as a Democrat this November in an effort to represent Parker and Wise counties in the 61st District.
“I know I seem a bit young, but I feel like we need to get involved right now if we’re going to make a change before it’s too late,” he said. “We’ve got a lot of issues. We’re dealing with major water issues right now, and this goes along with the earthquake issue.”
Britt said the Railroad Commission is “not even answering questions” and legislators “won’t listen” to their constituents.
“We’ve just got an unresponsive system right now,” he said. “I really care about families and communities, and I don’t like to see it when we’re put at risk for the sake of a quick buck.”
He said the oil and gas industries are “migratory” – the jobs disappear once the wells are drilled – but longtime residents of communities “get stuck” with the environmental consequences of drilling.
“There’s no liability, no accountability when we have issues like earthquakes, water contamination, loss of water,” he said. “I’m not anti-industry. I just feel like we should be more responsible. We have a huge economic boom coming from this, and we should use this to transition into another economic boom.
“We just can’t destroy what we have here.”
RAILROAD COMMISSION HIRES SEISMOLOGIST
The Texas Railroad Commission announced Friday that it has hired a seismologist in response to the occurrence of earthquakes in southern Wise, northern Tarrant and Parker counties.
David Craig Pearson, who holds a doctorate in geophysics from Southern Methodist University, is a former team leader for a seismic experimental field team at the Los Alamos National Laboratory. He started work April 1.
“My objective is to develop a broad understanding of the impact of oil and gas extraction activities on the day-to-day lives of Texas residents,” Pearson said. “I believe the Railroad Commission must be able to quickly and factually determine the accurate location of all earthquakes in the state and be able to determine the cause of earthquakes, be they natural or man-made.
“I plan to work to help clarify the root cause of earthquakes occurring by bringing all stakeholders’ concerns, questions, ideas and insights together to identify the best possible solutions,” Pearson said.
Commission chairman Barry Smitherman said he looks forward to Dr. Pearson’s assistance in pinpointing the cause of the “very few and relatively minor seismic events” that have occurred over the past several decades – “compared to more than 144,000 disposal wells operating nationwide.”
Commissioner David Porter said Pearson’s work will allow the agency to “further examine any possible correlation between seismic events and oil and gas activity.”
Commissioner Christi Craddick noted that the first disposal well permit was issued in 1936, and more than 34,000 such wells are currently operating in Texas.
“It is important that sound science be our guide in determining if there are any links to seismic activity,” she said. “I welcome Dr. Pearson’s expertise to help us work on these issues.”
At SMU, while a PhD student, Pearson was a graduate research assistant to Dr. Brian Stump, an SMU professor who is a member of the SMU earthquake team currently studying North Texas seismic activity. Pearson is a member of the Seismological Society of America, American Geophysical Union and American Association of Petroleum Geologists.
A former ranch manager in McCamey, Pearson has been a strong advocate of protecting and conserving Texas groundwater and surface water, and he currently serves as vice president of the Upton County Water District.
As the Railroad Commission’s in-house seismologist, Pearson’s duties will include:
- coordinating with other academic experts studying seismic events in Texas;
- obtaining, studying and interpreting various forms of data to evaluate seismic activity associated with known faults and historic and/or ongoing oil and gas exploration and production activities;
- leading efforts to conduct research as well as internally integrate oil and gas science with seismic science;
- coordinating communications and information gathering with stakeholders;
- reviewing, analyzing, interpreting and commenting on technical data from seismic data sources, computer models and digital maps; and
- developing recommendations and action plans.