Regulators must take a harder line when it comes to natural gas drilling's effects on Texas' environment, and the Railroad Commission of Texas (RRC), "long the oil and gas industry's lapdog, must become a watchdog," as activity in the Eagle Ford Shale increases, according to a report released Thursday by Earthworks' Texas Oil & Gas Accountability Project (OGAP).

In its report, OGAP calls on the RRC to adopt rules requiring "full public disclosure of oil and gas drilling and fracking [hydraulic fracturing] fluids," and to implement rules requiring closed-loop drilling systems and water-based drilling fluids.

OGAP also recommends that the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality strictly enforce emission limits from oil and gas exploration and production (E&P) equipment, the Texas Water Development Board evaluate the impact of fracking on groundwater, and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency identify sources of drilling chemicals in groundwater and regulate air pollution from oil and gas E&P.

The report, issued jointly by Earthworks and nine other environmental and community groups, criticizes the regulatory agencies for what OGAP called "inadequate laws and regulations" in response to potential "air pollution, water contamination and other problems that accompany natural gas production."

Texas Senate lawmakers recently passed legislation that would abolish the three-member RRC and replace it with the one-member Texas Oil and Gas Commission (see Shale Daily, April 6). As passed, SB 655 would have the one commissioner initially appointed by the governor to cover the transition period to the new agency, but subsequent commissioners would be elected every four years. OGAP said it supports the replacement of RRC with an appointed oil and gas commission.

With the discovery and development of the Barnett and Eagle Ford shales within the last 10 years, natural gas development in Texas is back on the rise. After peaking at 26 Bcf/d in the early 1970s, Texas gas production sunk to less than 15 Bcf/d in the early 1990s. However, since shale development began, that number has been increasing, and is currently just north of 20 Bcf/d, according to RRC data. The average rig count in the state as of Mach 18 was 751, accounting for about 45% of all active land rigs in the United States, according to RRC.

The Eagle Ford "has the potential to be the single most significant economic development" in Texas history and a task force is needed to focus on the play, according to RRC Commissioner David Porter (see Shale Daily, April 14). The RRC overseas activities in the Eagle Ford from its Corpus Christi and San Antonio offices, both of which need more staff to be fully up to the challenge, Porter told NGI's Shale Daily.