The Texas Railroad Commission, despite its byzantine name, is responsible for the regulation of oil and gas throughout the state. It is an enormous responsibility for a state so inextricably linked with the creation of energy. With three commission members serving staggered terms, a sole commissioner seat will be up for election this year.
The incumbent, Barry Smitherman, has been a terrible commissioner in his limited tenure. Between focusing on red-meat social issues that have little to do with energy and neglecting his duties for an ill-fate run toward higher office, Smitherman has — as Chairman of the Commission — reduced the position to a rubber stamp for the oil and gas industry. With Smitherman retiring, Republican candidate Ryan Sitton looks certain to continue this legacy.
Now, in the midst of Texas’ biggest oil boom since the 1970s, being friendly to the industry is not necessarily a bad thing. The recent rev-up in production has the capacity to revitalize the lives of countless Texans and send our economy into overdrive. But the point of a regulatory body is not merely to be a cheerleader for the industry, but to protect the public and foster policies for the benefit of the entire community.
Sitton, an oil and gas engineer, appears complacent to continue along with business as usual. On the other hand, Steven Brown, the Former Chairman of the Fort Bend County Democratic Party, wants to ensure people are protected above all else. Though not classically trained in the industry, Brown has proven himself to have an impressive mastery of all the issues that the commission faces.
At issue here more than anything else is the dispute over hydraulic fracturing, colloquially known as “fracking.” The process involves injecting high-pressure liquid into shale rocks that contain natural gas and petroleum, making previously unreachable resources available. Without a doubt, these processes have left a positive mark on Texas. They have helped expedite weaning us off of foreign energy sources, as well as enriching portions of the state and jumpstarting the economy.
But real concerns remain. Namely, the freshwater of these regions has been comprised and some evidence exists that these procedures can cause minor earthquakes. This has prompted many liberals and others affected to call for an outright ban, if not a moratorium, on the measure.
For Brown’s part, he has been more tempered. He wishes to end some fracking into those areas with serious earthquakes, as well as ban the use of freshwater for fracking, but he does not merely want to end the largely successful practice. This measured approach is far superior to Sitton’s mindset, which is to ignore the myriad complications that have arisen.
Additionally, we simply cannot take Sitton seriously as a candidate considering his serious ethical breaches throughout the campaign. As someone who has a significant interest in many oil companies, Sitton originally defiantly stated that he would not divest his interests if elected, despite the fact that he would have regulatory power over those same companies. Only much later did he reverse his stance in an insincere effort to carry favor with voters. This led us against endorsing Sitton in the Republican primary for the post, despite the fact that we agreed with him on policy more than his opponent in that election.
Thus, it would be an easy choice to support Brown in this election. But we also tend to agree with him more on policy choices and actual issues that the commission might face. He wants to be for the people, Sitton wants to be for the profits.
Accordingly, this board endorses Steven Brown for Railroad Commissioner.
The Texpatriate Editorial Board is comprised of Noah M. Horwitz & Olivia Arena of Austin, George Bailey of Boston, Luis Fayad of College Station and Andrew Scott Romo of New Orleans. Editorials represent a majority opinion of the voting board.