HOUSTON—A recent state report accuses the Texas Railroad Commission of, among other things, corruption and ignoring public safety.
The Texas Railroad Commission is responsible for the oversight of the state’s more than 170,000 miles of intrastate natural gas pipelines. And while the commission’s name may be outdated, some are suggesting its function is as well.
"We need to change the way the commission is formed," said Rep. Lon Burnham (D-Ft. Worth). "We need to change the fact that this is probably the most corrupt agency in the state of Texas."
The three elected commissioners receive a significant amount of their campaign funds from the oil and gas industry, the same industry the commission is charged to oversee.
Every 12 years, the Sunset Advisory Commission reviews all the state agencies throughout Texas. It has been highly critical of the Texas Railroad Commission.
According to the Sunset Advisory Commission’s review of the Texas Railroad Commission, the railroad commission "pursues enforcement action in a very small percentage of the thousand of violations inspectors identify each year."
An enforcement action is taken to enforce state or federal regulations and can range from a warning letter, to a fine, to criminal prosecution.
11 News found that of those that are punished by the Texas Railroad Commission, the enforcement actions do not amount to much.
Out of the tens of thousands of violations in 2001, 488 compliance actions were taken. Those actions resulted in just 13 fines totaling $267,750.
The Sunset Commission says fines are important to deter future violations.
"This means assessing fines frequently enough to send the message to operators that if they commit a violation, a penalty may be assessed, even if the operator comes into compliance," said the commission in its review.
However, the numbers show the problem is getting worse. Last year, out of the 80,000 oil and gas production-related violations, there were just 469 compliance actions taken by the commission. Not a single penalty or fine was assessed.
For the entire decade, only 64 penalties have been assessed to pipeline operators, with fines totaling less than $500,000.
Despite the criticism long-standing Texas Railroad Commissioner Michael Williams doesn’t see the report as negative.
"There is nothing in it that is an indictment of the commission," said Williams.