A mixed crowd of students, academics, local residents, and about 15 protesters (all but 2 of whom left halfway through) attended yesterday’s panel discussion of Texas’ regulation of natural gas drilling.
Jay Ewing, the first speaker, works in corporate management at Devon Energy, although his background is in petroleum engineering. He kicked things off by mentioning we’d all probably rather be watching the Rangers game than talking about hydraulic fracturing. I have to say at least one person wouldn’t. His presentation was smooth, mostly about how safe hydraulic fracturing is. He took special care to emphasize how “green” Devon in particular is as a petrochemical corporation. Exuded confidence in technological breakthroughs in horizontal drilling, but didn’t mention any risks. Does he know they exist? I have to assume he does.
Next it was the turn of the executive director of the Texas Railroad Commission, John Tintera, to speak. First, he mentioned his background is in geology. Then he launched into a vibrant speech in which he sounded more like a corporate spokesman than Ewing, making a 19th century carnival busker’s pitch for 100% genuine petrofied hydrofrackified natural gas. I honestly have never heard an executive director of a regulatory agency pitch so hard for the industry he is supposed to regulate. Tintera also shook everybody’s hand prior to the discussion, very much like a politician would, which he insisted (unprompted) he was not. Ultimately, he sounded like like he was defending his agency from public scrutiny rather than evincing how aggressively they regulate industry.
Tony Walker, the regional director the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ), was the last panelist to speak. As TCEQ’s jurisdiction in the strange jerrymandering of Texan environmental regulation is limited to surface water and air quality, he mostly spoke about their monitoring instruments. Unlike Tintera, he actually sounded like he was running a regulatory agency as a public servant. Despite this, TCEQ has been criticized for insufficiently regulating the emissions of benzene and carbon disulfide, both of which are hazardous to human health. This did not come up.
The panel was extremely thought provoking, so I’d like to return to this next week with a closer look at the agencies represented at the panel.