Bills to change the name of and make reforms to the Railroad Commission of Texas (RRC) were moving through the state legislature Friday, as was legislation to expand the use of pipelines to carry drilling waste rather than trucking it to injection wells.

On Friday, proposed ethics restrictions on RRC commissioners’ campaign activities appeared less likely than an RRC name change to Texas Energy Resources Commission, or something similar.

On Thursday, the Senate passed SB 212 on a 21-0 vote. it would rename the agency and require commissioners to resign from the RRC before running for another office. Sen. Robert Nichols’ (R-Jacksonville) bill also would limit commissioners to a 17-month window during which they could seek campaign contributions for re-election to the commission. Currently, commissioners, who are elected to six-year terms, may receive contributions during their entire time on the RRC. SB 212 also prohibit them from receiving contributions from parties with contested cases before the RRC.

State Rep. Dennis Bonnen’s (R-Angleton) HB 2166 started out with the same provisions, but the reforms were weakened in the House Energy Resources Committee. HB 2166 has been forwarded to the full House.

RRC commissioners have generally opposed the ethics changes, arguing that they should be treated the same as other elected officials. However, RRC critics have argued that current practice with regard to campaigning by commissioners and the contributions they receive creates at least the appearance of a conflict of interest.

The legislation came about from the latest Sunset Advisory Commission review of the RRC (see NGI, Nov. 26, 2012). The RRC underwent its previous Sunset review in 2011, but the legislation spawned by that review, which included a name change and other reforms, failed to pass (see NGI, May 30, 2011; April 11, 2011).

Also on Thursday, SB 514 was approved unanimously and sent to the House. The legislation by Sen Wendy Davis (D-Fort Worth) is intended to expand the use of pipelines to carry oil and gas waste to disposal wells in order to reduce the number of tanker trucks on Texas roads.

Another bill, SB 873, would clarify that Texas water conservation districts may require permits for fracking-related water wells but are not required to do so. It passed the Senate last Thursday, with five members voting against, and proceeded to the House.

Companion bills SB 1749 and HB 3317 would exempt water wells supplying oil and gas well completion operations from conservation district permitting requirements; both were still in committee Friday. HB 3537 and HB 2992 deal with recycling requirements for flowback water and were also still in committee Friday.

The last day of the legislature’s regular session is May 27.

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