AGENCY PARTNER: TEXAS RAILROAD COMMISSION
Those new to Texas and some natives may find it interesting to note that the state’s Railroad Commission (RRC) in fact does not regulate railroads. Instead the state agency is charged with regulating the exploration and production of oil and natural gas, pipeline safety, surface mining, gas utilities and propane safety across the state. A member of the state’s Emergency Management Council, read on to learn about the agency’s involvement in natural and manmade disasters and more.
WHAT ASSETS DOES THE RAILROAD COMMISSION BRING TO THE TABLE?
The Railroad Commission is led by three statewide-elected Railroad Commissioners, Chairman Elizabeth Ames Jones, Commissioner David Porter and Commissioner Barry T. Smitherman. The agency has 772 employees between its Austin headquarters and in nine oil and gas district field offices across the state. Protecting public safety and the environment, the RRC regulates the exploration and production of oil and natural gas, pipeline safety, surface mining, gas utilities and propane safety. In Austin, the RRC has a 13-person SOC team that serves on a rotating schedule during activation. The SOC Team uses geospatial maps that identify oil and gas wells, pipelines and other facilities with information pertaining to the specific infrastructure that may be of great value in an emergency situation. The SOC team maintains critical contact information. The Commission’s nine oil and gas statewide district offices have heavy-duty pickup trucks, tough book computers with geospatial maps, cell phones and knowledge of access to many rural areas across the state.
WHAT DOES THE RAILROAD COMMISSION DO FOR THE STATE DURING AND FOLLOWING DISASTERS?
The Commission helps to protect energy supplies during and following disasters by monitoring any service disruptions of pipelines, gas plants and refineries after a disruption is reported. The agency also makes available Critical Infrastructure/Key Resource geospatial mapping data to TDEM before and during any energy emergency. During any potential oil and gas emergencies, the Commission also assists emergency responders in the State Operations Center in monitoring the production, delivery and receipt of oil and gas in an affected disaster area; determining how much and what type of energy source is to be allocated; determining if resources can be reallocated from non-affected areas; and providing updates on the status of energy supplies in a disaster area.
WHAT ARE SOME OF THE RECENT DISASTERS IN WHICH RRC PERSONNEL HAVE ASSISTED?
RRC emergency responders monitored pipelines, oil and gas facilities and field activities during the wildfires in Bastrop, Leander, Spicewood and Tomball at the SOC in September 2011. Staff also monitored natural gas supplies and pipeline disruptions during the February 2011 winter storm. Commission staff monitored the progress of tropical storms and hurricanes from June through October 2011. RRC District office personnel also are involved with well blowouts, pipeline ruptures and fires as they may occur.
WHAT OTHER ROLES DOES THE AGENCY SERVE DURING DISASTERS?
The RRC SOC representative is in close contact with the fuel team coordinator at the SOC. The Fuel Team is managed by a staff member of the Texas Oil and Gas Association and is made up of various trade groups supplying road side emergency fuel and coordinating fuel deliveries during evacuations. The RRC SOC representative is also in close contact with representatives of the Texas Energy Reliability Council (TERC), the Public Utility Commission, the General Land Office and the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality during emergencies.