Increased scrutiny of the oil and gas industry, including the way companies uses flaring to burn off impurities and lower grade gas, is increasingly in the spotlight. That and other issues facing the industry were the popular topics at an area planning committee meeting in McMullen County.
Silver Vasquez, a representative of the South Texas Energy and Economic Roundtable, discussed legislative changes which could affect the Eagle Ford Shale area, which includes Karnes, Live Oak and McMullen counties.
Flaring, which is noticeable when a flame arises from the top of a flare stack/pipe, is among the most visible issues commonly seen by the public during oil and gas production.
“Heavy flaring is a big issue for the Biden-Harris administration,” Vasquez said. “EPA (Environmental Protection Agency) appointments may funnel down and affect our region. Texas is in a good position because we don’t have a lot of federal properties. But places like Houston might feel a bigger impact because there are a lot of national and international (gas and oil) companies located there.
“Locally, there is a big push to end routine flaring, and the industry has done a great job reducing that. It’s important that we let folks know just how little flaring actually does take place throughout our area.”
The battle between private landowners and those who want to be able to access areas for energy production companies, which has been a hot topic for years, remains an important issue throughout the Eagle Ford Shale and beyond.
“There will be a (Texas) legislative session in 2021, and eminent domain (the ability of the government to purchase and take ownership of private property) is one of the biggest issues (on the legislative agenda),” Vasquez said.
“In the last session (the 2019 Texas Legislative session) there was a big effort to ensure the (eminent domain) process can be more transparent and less bureaucratic. There is a call for more education (of rights and responsibilities involving eminent domain), more transparency, and hopefully some of the barriers to public meetings will be removed and there will be fairer offers to folks.”
McMullen County Judge James Teal said eminent domain “is always in the forefront of our minds.”
Vasquez noted that bills regarding eminent domain have been filed in every Texas legislative session since 2009.
“I think we can all agree not enough is being done to protect landowners and investors,” he said. “We want to raise the bar across the board.
“For both sides, removing litigiousness is one of the things we’re really looking for at that prevents landowners and the industry from being able to compromise. It’s not easy for either side, but compromise is what is best for everybody involved.”
One of the issues state government faces during a time of budget crunches resulting from the COVID-19 pandemic is making sure adequate funding is available to the Texas Railroad Commission, which oversees oil and gas production, Vasquez said.
“It’s important to make sure that the Railroad Commission has enough money to stay afloat with the number of inspectors needed so that we don’t impede economic development,” he said.
Ensuring that there is also the necessary funding for roads to assist with economic development is also important, and “with tight economic conditions, who knows how that will go,” Vasquez said.
Despite all the challenges and uncertainties and the financial setbacks of 2020, Vasquez said hopes are high for next year.
“Folks are optimistic, and hopefully 2021 will be a better year,” he said. Economic growth in portions of the Eagle Ford Shale will hopefully spread from one area to another, he added.
“Any opportunity to develop more energy in South Texas is beneficial to all of us,” Vasquez said.
A key is to ensure that Texas energy production continues to be a strong player not only nationally but worldwide, he said.
“Texas is a tremendous state with great resources but sometimes we’re at the beck and call of foreign markets,” Vasquez said. “We need to look at ways to cushion those blows and alleviate that.
“We also need to look for consistent trade partners for Texas and make sure folks are buying our energy and are not going to other states or foreign markets to purchase energy. As the No. 1 energy producer in the country, we’ve really got to have a bigger voice. We need to bring together the private sector and the public sector and bring together bright minds to come up with effective strategies.”