One quarter into the 2021 fiscal year, the Railroad Commission of Texas (RRC) is ahead of its goal to have 5% or less of the oil and natural gas wells in the state uninspected at least once every five years.

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Only 4.28% of the nearly 440,000 wells in Texas have not been inspected at least once since 2016, according to the RRC. In the fiscal year (FY) 2020, only 1% of wells had not been inspected in that time frame. The commission has exceeded its 5% goal each year since instituted in 2018. At the time, 58% of wells had not had at least one inspection in the prior five years.

For FY 2022 and 2023, the RRC’s goal is to reduce further the percentage of wells uninspected in a five-year cycle to below 0.25%. The increased frequency of inspections, which determine compliance with Commission rules, has resulted in a broad reduction in the number of violations for oil and gas wells, according to the agency. RRC said the percentage of inspections that resulted in cited violations fell to 8.65% in FY 2020, down from 9.20% year/year and 11.44% in FY 2018.

“We have worked diligently toward achieving this goal,” said RRC Director of Field Operations Clay Woodul. “Our inspectors deserve all the credit for this accomplishment, which is even more impressive considering the pandemic we have been dealing with.”

The RRC indicated that technology improvements have allowed it to become “more efficient in utilizing its limited resources.” In 2015, the implementation of the web-based Inspection, Compliance and Enforcement (ICE) reporting system gave the agency the ability to track inspections at the well level, rather than by lease. This helped the agency map wells and identify those that had not been inspected in the previous five years.

Field inspectors, who often work in remote parts of the state, were given the ability to file their reports remotely using ICE, without the need for an internet connection, according to RRC. Reports are uploaded when a connection is available. ICE also provides inspectors with access to “comprehensive, real-time data” to help them determine compliance while on site, rather than waiting until they return to a district office.

The RRC in November issued a final rulemaking requiring oil and gas producers to show why they need permission to flare or vent natural gas. Flaring and venting gas already is limited under state rules, but the commission routinely has allowed exceptions. The rulemaking, handed down after consultation with exploration and production executives about how to curb flaring/venting and an industry coalition on best practices, is in response to criticism that oversight was lax.