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Texas Regulators Clarify Roles

The Railroad Commission of Texas (RRC) and the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ) have issued an outline that attempts to clarify the responsibilities of each agency with respect to oil and gas regulation.

The RRC has primary regulatory jurisdiction over the oil and gas industry. The TCEQ is the environmental agency for the state. A memorandum of understanding (MOU) between them provides additional explanation of the agencies' jurisdictions and can be found in Title 16 Texas Administrative Code.

The TCEQ is the state's lead agency in responding to releases of hazardous substances, refined petroleum products and abandoned containers of unknown substances that are not leaking.

In general, wastes from oil and gas-related activities are regulated by the RRC; however, there are a few exceptions.

The RRC has jurisdiction over hazardous and non-hazardous wastes associated with the exploration, development or production of oil and gas; injection wells to dispose of oil and gas wastes; naturally occurring radioactive material waste from oil and gas activities; wastes from the transportation of crude oil by pipeline and storage (including tank bottoms) before it enters a refinery; wastes from the transportation of natural gas by pipeline prior to use in the manufacturing process or residential/industrial use; nonhazardous wastes from natural gas processing plants; and wastes from vacuum truck rinsate and tank rinsate generated at facilities operated by oil and gas waste haulers permitted by the RRC. For more information on RRC regulated waste, call (877) 228-5740.

The TCEQ has jurisdiction over waste associated with transport of crude oil and natural gas by railcar, truck, barge or oil tanker and refined petroleum products by pipeline; wastes generated at oilfield service facilities that provide equipment, materials, or services to the oil and gas industry; and wastes from oil and gas activities that are processed, treated or disposed of at a solid waste management facility authorized by the TCEQ. For more information on TCEQ regulated waste, call (512) 239-6412.

Callers to either regulatory agency might find that the phone rings a little bit longer these days than it used to as many state workers -- including some of those employed by the RRC and TCEQ -- have jumped ship to work in the oil and gas patch where salaries can be much higher.

This is particularly true in the Eagle Ford Shale region in South Texas and in the Permian Basin in West Texas.

"The state workforce is pretty dramatically underpaid compared to the private sector," Andy Homer, government relations director for the nonunion Texas Public Employees Association, told the Fort Worth Business Press recently. "They can easily make twice as much in the oil boom areas."

RRC spokeswoman Ramona Nye told the paper that technical employees are particularly prone to leave the agency for better paying jobs in the industry during boom times. Since the start of the current fiscal year last September, she said, the commission has had 64 employees leave, including 25 retirees. During the previous fiscal year, she said, the commission had 94 departures, including 37 retirees.

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