The Democratic primary for Texas railroad commissioner showcases the wide spectrum of views among Texans who lean left, from moderate candidates who would work with industry to uphold environmental standards for oil and gas production, to a candidate who wants to halt fossil fuel production entirely.
Within this group of candidates, we recommend voters choose Chrysta Castañeda for her flexibility to consider new ideas that could both raise the standards for cleaner oil and gas production while ensuring the industry remains healthy.
Among the chief issues right now before the Railroad Commission of Texas, which promotes and regulates the oil and gas industry, is whether to allow flaring, the burning off of natural gas from oil production, and how much to allow. Burning natural gas releases less pollution than venting it, but the practice is wasteful.
Most oil producers would, of course, prefer to sell natural gas rather than burn it, but the Permian Basin lacks enough pipelines to bring natural gas to market. (Oil can more easily be transported by truck or rail where pipelines don’t exist.) So the railroad commission has granted some producers permission to flare the gas in the interest of promoting oil production.
All of the Democratic candidates agreed that flaring is bad. Most candidates said they would reduce flaring by direct regulation, by simply limiting the permits for oil producers to flare.
Castañeda, 57, has a different idea. Why not encourage oil companies to use the natural gas to produce electricity for their operations in the field? And why not connect that electricity production to the power grid, so that producers could sell excess power? By Castañeda’s calculations, producers could at least break even with such an investment.
We find this idea intriguing, as much of the natural gas produced in Texas is used for power generation in faraway plants, and the natural gas must be moved by pipeline. We also recognize that building grid-quality power generation in West Texas would require working closely with the Public Utility Commission and the Electric Reliability Council of Texas to ensure permits and regulations align. We hope Castañeda is ready to put in that kind of transformative work.
Other candidates for the nomination include Mark Watson, 63, a smart lawyer who said he would be a voice of firm industry regulation on the commission.
Former State Rep. Roberto Alonzo, 63, is also running, along with Kelly Stone, 41, an educator and stand-up comic. Stone is delightful, but says we must eliminate fossil fuel production and consumption without offering realistic suggestions on how to do so.
Attempting to ban oil and gas without allowing the energy industry to develop cleaner alternatives would be harmful to regular Texans who rely on electricity and gasoline, and we call on political candidates to offer solutions, like Castañeda’s.
CORRECTION: A prior version of this editorial had an incorrect age for Castañeda and incorrectly stated that Mark Watson has worked as a judge.