Major Reform of Texas Oil and Gas Rules Wins Favor from Environmental Groups

Newly Revised Rule 13 Signals Progress Being Made to Address Safety Concerns with Hydraulically Fracked Wells

May 24, 2013
Contact: 
Lauren Whittenberg, 512-691-3437, lwhittenberg@edf.org
Scott Anderson, 512-691-3410, sanderson@edf.org
Cyrus Reed, 512-477-1729, cyrus.reed@sierraclub.org

AUSTIN, Texas – The Sierra Club Lone Star Chapter and Environmental Defense Fund (EDF) commend the Texas Railroad Commission (RRC) on its biggest overhaul of oil and gas rules in over thirty years. The RRC adopted dozens of highly technical rules today aimed at improving well integrity – procedures critical for constructing and operating oil and gas wells in a way that protects the environment, public health and safety.

Texas is the nation’s top oil and gas producer and a leader in new, innovative drilling technologies used for extraction. Proper construction of oil and gas wells is essential to isolate chemicals, salt water and oil and gas product from protected water.

“State regulators made significant progress with the Rule 13 revisions,” said Cyrus Reed, Ph.D., Sierra Club Texas conservation director. “The Texas oil and gas industry has changed rapidly and this overhaul of Rule 13 is a good start to address some of the public health and environmental concerns associated with hydraulically fractured wells.”

Improvements were made covering distinct aspects of well integrity such as casing materials, cementing and pressure management. The rule is among the first in the nation to pay attention to the geology that separates protected underground water from rock being hydraulically fractured. This is important to be sure that any risks of fractures extending into water supplies are avoided.

Other key innovations in the rule include a more sophisticated approach to determining which rock layers in a well need to be sealed off in order to assure the well’s pipes and cement protect water supplies from pollution.

“Texas has moved back into a leadership position on regulation of oil and gas well construction,” said Scott Anderson, EDF’s senior policy advisor. “Agencies around the country, including the federal Bureau of Land Management, can learn a lot from studying these rules as well as similar rules adopted last year in Ohio.”

The Railroad Commission began revising Rule 13 a year ago. It is part of a longer term process by the state to overhaul its oil and gas regulations and bring the rulebook in line with today’s leading practices.

One particular provision in Rule 13, however, falls short of requiring industry to follow best practice regarding the amount of space surrounding casings, the steel pipes that go underground. This “annular space” (or “annular gap”) is supposed to be filled with cement as necessary to isolate groundwater from pollution, protect the casing from corrosion and prevent gas from migrating to places it does not belong. The RRC set this space below the limit experts advise in order to protect the environment.

“In other respects, however, the rule is excellent,” said Anderson. “That doesn’t mean it addresses every aspect of well integrity. There are only so many issues that can be addressed at one time and the Commission is well aware that there is more to be done.”

“There is a long road ahead,” said Reed. “The agency has been deeply engaged for a year in updating its regulations, and we look forward to continuing to work with them on improvements.”

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