Texas oil and gas regulators are planning to step up their enforcement abilities, including through the enhanced use of drones, to improve oversight of the massive energy industry.

The Railroad Commission of Texas (RRC) outlined its fiscal year (FY) 2021 strategic priorities, with a big goal to accurately monitor and enforce major oil and gas violations. 

Drones are expected to get plenty of flying time.

“Just in the past several months we have utilized technological advances to streamline operations and improve our agency’s efficiency,” said RRC executive director Wei Wang. “We launched a drone program that will help inspectors quickly respond to emergencies, which is critical in incidents when time is of the essence.”

The drones also give RRC “aerial views of incidents, which were not available to inspectors in the past,” Wang said.
In addition, the RRC has added “another layer to our transparency initiative with an online portal for our hearings cases. Not only does this portal give the public unprecedented access to view documents and reports used in the hearings, but it also allows parties involved in hearings to easily save time by filing documents online, while also streamlining our staff resources.”

The online portal is expected to improve accessibility and quality controls by maintaining electronic records rather than relying on paper files.

The annual planning document outlines how the RRC plans to ensure all wells in the state are inspected at least once every five years and documents ongoing enhancements to agency operations. 

The commission said in April it exceeded a FY2020 performance target to inspect oil and gas wells and facilities four months ahead of schedule. As of June, 286,205 inspections had been conducted. The RRC also exceeded its five-vear inspection frequency goal for the year.

By comparison, during FY2019, the RRC conducted 203,697 total inspections, which included 133,058 well level inspections and 59,639 inspections of other operating facilities.

Because of the impact of Covid-19, the RRC also has begun some virtual training sessions, and it is exploring “ways to provide more online training as part of the agency’s future outreach to the oil and gas industry.”