Amid Oil Boom, Texas Votes On Who Holds the Reins of Regulation

Nov 5, 2014

Steve Brown, left, and Ryan Sitton, right, are the two major party candidate for the Railroad Commission of Texas.
Credit GRAPHIC COURTESY OF THE TEXAS TRIBUNE

Update: Ryan Sitton defeated Steve Brown in the race for Railroad Commissioner 58.31 percent to 36.49 percent.

Original Story (Nov. 4, 4:14 p.m.): An empty seat on a strangely-named state regulatory agency usually flies under the radar of voters. But the race to serve on the Railroad Commission of Texas has gained additional attention and importance this election. That’s because whoever wins will not oversee railroads, as the name suggests, but will regulate the Texas oil and gas industry. It’s an industry in the midst of a boom that’s transforming global energy markets and pumping billions into the Texas economy.

The two major party candidates competing for the seat offer starkly different visions for what the job entails.

Democrat Steve Brown spent much of campaign highlighting issues of public health and landowner rights. He visited with workers in the Permian Basin of West Texas to talk about safety in the oilfields, and spent time with residents of a North Texas region dealing with an upsurge in earthquakes tied to oil and gas production.

If elected, Brown says he will ask the state for more funding for an agency whose growth has not kept pace with the industry it regulates.

“I think we obviously need to make sure the agency is funded to the capacity where they can support the growth of oil and gas activity in the state,” he said after a recent candidates forum hosted by the Texas Tribune.

Republican Candidate Ryan Sitton, an engineer who runs an oil and gas consulting firm, touts the technical expertise he would bring to the job, and his desire to help guide the U.S. to energy independence.

He said he would not be afraid to ask for more money for the agency if needed, but would also try to “use technology, use tools, to leverage people better, so that when there are downturns I’m not a bloated, overstaffed agency.”

Sitton is considered an industry favorite in the race. He has vastly out-raised all other opponents. In the last month of campaigning he has brought in about 40 times more in contributions than the Brown campaign.

Candidate Mark Miller is also running on the Libertarian ticket. He has been talking to voters on issues of property rights and man-made earthquakes tied to oil and gas production, among other things.

Martina Salinas is the Green Party candidate. She has highlighted environmental issues and supports a proposal to ban fracking within the city limits of Denton, Texas.