Environmental and Energy Law Blog

Tuesday, September 20, 2016

Report States that Not All Oil Spills in Texas Are Investigated by Regulators

Are all oil spills in Texas investigated?

Newly released documents give evidence that The Railroad Commission of Texas, charged with the task of investigating every report of an oil spill in the state, has not been following protocol. This information came to light as Sen. José Rodríguez (D-El Paso), concerned about potential catastrophic floods, requested government records on the matter.

Being in full compliance with the regulations of the state of Texas is not optional, nor is it simple. If you have concerns about your company's environmental impact and whether you are meeting all necessary requirements, it is essential that you consult with attorneys expert in issues of health, safety and environment  in order to protect your business's reputation and profits, and avoid expensive lawsuits.

The Case of the Unreported Oil Spills

A collection of documents obtained by the El Paso Times demonstrates irregularities involved in the investigation of oil spills throughout Texas. One notation, after oil spills produced by flooding along the Red River last year, included the following: "These were determined not to be a priority at the time, and our efforts were turned to other major issues caused by the floodings that were reported in the media."

According to the same email, written by an agency employee, the commission neglected to pay attention to the problem in Red River, instead focusing on spills along Hickory Creek and in the Hagerman National Wildlife Refuge. The latter is located on the Central Flyway -- one of four migratory bird “super highways” in North America. Apparently, the flood in Red River was ignored because it did have enough of a sensational component.

As if this weren't bad enough, inspection reports indicated that the spill in the Hagerman Refuge was caused by Jetta Operating Co., Inc. This same company was responsible for a second spill in the refuge three months later, but was never fined.

Priscilla Villa, an environmental activist and an organizer of Earthworks Texas, wrote a scathing email to the El Paso Times, stating that the disturbing findings are only the latest in mounting evidence that the Texas Railroad Commission "continues to fail to protect our water, property and communities from oil spills.”

This year's increased flooding demonstrates that climate change is already exacerbating the risk of catastrophic flooding across Texas. The newspaper reports that scientists tracking climate alterations predict that flooding is likely to become more frequent and severe in coming years.

In the face of mounting evidence that the Railroad Commission has been remiss, spokeswoman Ramona Nye did not have much to say except that, " the Railroad Commission responds to reports of potential oil releases to ensure protection of public safety and the environment… and oversees containment and cleanup to ensure it is done in compliance with RRC rules.”

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