Texas Railroad Commissioner candidates

Ryan Sitton, James Wright, Mark Watson, Kelly Stone, Robert Alonzo and Christa Castaneda are vying for Texas Railroad Commissioner.

Texas Railroad Commissioner

Editor’s note: To help voters learn more about the candidates, the Advocate is printing profiles provided by the League of Women Voters in contested races in the March 3 primary election.

Texas Railroad Commissioner: 6-year term. Must be at least 25 years old, a Texas resident and a registered voter. Regulates the energy industry, including preventing pollution, well plugging and site remediation, pipeline safety and damage prevention, surface mining of coal and uranium, gas utility rates and alternative fuels.

Education

Background: What training, experience, and background qualify you for this position?

Pipelines: What are your recommendations relating to regulation of pipelines?

Natural Resources: How do you plan to balance oil, gas and mining interests with protection of natural resources?

Other issues: What other issues do you believe will be most pressing for the Railroad Commission?

Roberto R. ‘Beto’ Alonzo (D), Attorney and former state representative

Education: University of Texas at Austin Thurgood Marshall School of Law

Background: As a former State Representative, I know the law, legislative and the budget process which funds the RRC and other state agencies. As an experienced litigator, I can rule on appeals regarding oil and gas, pipeline, utility and environmental issues before the RRC an. Originally from Crystal City, I know the oil and gas issues impacting both rural and urban communities.

Pipelines: The Legislature should enact laws to ensure that regulation of pipelines is meaningful. An application for a permit should require comprehensive information regarding routes, economic, environmental and historical impact, and not based on a simple form. The exercise of Eminent Domain should be fair to all. Monitor compliance with rules and regulations by industry.

Natural Resources: Review and update provisions to allow development, reduction of waste while protecting the environment. Ensure that the public has notice of development and impactful changes in their area and opportunity to submit input on the proposals. Study cost effective methods to reduce flaring in order to reduce waste and increase access to pipelines.

Other issues: Monitor the relationship between drilling and seismicity and support innovation in drilling processes including the use of water in fracking. Encourage the use of alternative fuels. Review agency processes for award of contracts, compliance with HUB and diversity in hiring at all levels. Monitor practices in the field to increase worker safety.

Chrysta Castañeda (D), Lawyer

Education: SMU Dedman School of Law, J.D. cum laude, 1991 Kansas State University, B.S. Industrial Engineering, 1985 Harvard College, Applied Math major, 1981-1983

Background: I am an engineer, oil and gas attorney, community organizer and mom, with over 30 years of experience working in and around the oil and gas industry. I know both the law and the business of oil and gas and will work tirelessly to get the Railroad Commission back on track in enforcing our environmental protections and safety regulations.

Pipelines: The Commission oversees pipeline safety for intrastate pipelines and we need to update those regulations to meet today’s standards. Laying new pipelines creates challenges beyond the Commission’s powers, and addressing those challenges will require the Legislature to act. I’ll use my expertise to press for a framework that includes transparency and public input.

Natural Resources: We must enforce existing laws prohibiting flaring, the harmful practice of burning natural gas. It wastes our natural resources, takes revenues away from our state and causes environmental and health concerns. I will use my expertise to deploy alternative technologies that will reduce the amount of flaring, convert it to usable electricity and clean up our air.

Other issues: We need to reduce harmful methane emissions. Methane escapes through leakage, aging equipment, and intentional venting, which is against the law. I will improve the detection and enforcement programs. We can use drones equipped with infrared cameras to detect leaks. Education can improve prevention and we will need to better enforce existing laws.

Kelly Stone (D), Educator

Education: HS Diploma Aldine Senior High School (8th in class); BS in Family and Consumer Sciences--Texas State University (formerly Southwest Texas State University) GPA: 3.55; MA in Health Education/Health Promotion The University of Texas at Austin GPA: 4.0

Background: As an educator, I’ve implemented harm reduction strategies to improve health, taught capstone college courses regarding policies, laws and regulations affecting individuals and families at local, state and federal levels. As an environmental activist, I’ve worked to clean up litter and pollution, encourage waste consciousness, change consumer behavior and advocated for environmental policy.

Pipelines: Kinder Morgan and Whitewater Midstream and all pipeline companies must conduct environmental impact studies first. Construction and Operation of these pipelines could impact health at Jacob’s Well, Cypress Creek, Blanco River, Barton Springs, San Marcos River and Pecos, Dimmit, Kenedy, Maverick, La Salle, Duval, Jim Wells, Nueces, Gillespie, Blanco, Hays and Caldwell counties.

Natural Resources: Balancing interests vs. protections? The RRC’s protection of oil and gas interests have far outweighed that of our natural resources. In order to find balance, I’d increase protections of natural resources by denying permits for flaring and committing to the initiatives of the GND, transitioning to healthy outcomes and full employment as we eliminate crude oil export by 2040.

Other issues: We must change the name of the Railroad Commission. Comprised of three-statewide elected officials, the RRC has nothing to do with railroads and everything to do with oil, gas and pipelines. Until it becomes more transparent to voters, the intentionally confusing name continues to allow the tyranny of Big Oil, regulating itself w/o regard for the climate crisis or our environment.

Mark Watson (D), Attorney

Education: JD, Tulane University BA, Tulane University

Background: I have directly participated in drilling oil and gas wells in Texas. I have worked for Exxon, J. Ray McDermott and the EPA. In the last 20 years I have watched the growing influence of the energy industry on the RRC. Texas has a proud history of protecting her natural resources. I will promote smart energy production to help hardworking men and women of Texas.

Pipelines: Safety first. Pipelines account for 70% of oil transport in the U.S. I will ensure that companies regularly inspect and maintain pipelines to prevent environmental hazards. Care must be taken to protect property owners from abusive use of eminent domain. Pipelines are absolutely essential to the Texas Oil Economy. Adopt newest pipeline technology and materials.

Natural Resources: Protecting Texas energy resources and the environment is a primary objective of the RRC. The intelligent and safe production of energy resources overlaps with best practices in the oil patch. I will err on protecting the environment and the health of Texas energy resources. The RRC will ensure that smart energy practices take priority in the Texas Oil and Gas Industry.

Other issues: We need smart energy practices. Flaring is the practice of burning unused gas from oil wells causing air pollution in beautiful West Texas skies and elsewhere. Coal mining reclamation decisions by RRC allow mining companies to leave behind toxic material, destroying value and causing dangerous contamination. Today’s RRC favors big business over hardworking Texans.

James ‘Jim’ Wright (R), Business owner, rancher

Education: Calallen High School in Corpus Christi

Background: I own five businesses and am associated with 14 other businesses that deal with environmental and transport issues in a wide range of industries, including the oil and gas business. I have been involved in these businesses since 1986. I am also a rancher.

Pipelines: Increased automated leak detection systems. More pipelines developed as part of our state’s infrastructure to deliver our natural resources in a safer and more economically feasible method.

Natural Resources: Implementation of better rules and the way that waste byproducts are handled currently are crucial to balancing the public interests and the economic needs of our citizens. The Railroad Commission needs to be more involved in using the volume of resources that are available under today’s technology.

Other issues: Implement and use proven technology for better communication with citizens and members of the oil and gas industry. — Stronger self-policing actions and reporting by Natural Resource producers. Life cycle analysis and development to ensure that future generations are reliant on best environmental management practices by the Industry.

Contact: wrightfortexas.com; http://imwrightfortexas; @JimWright4Texas

Ryan Sitton (R)

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