The Railroad Commission Today
In 1984, the federal government assumed regulatory responsibility for all of the nation’s railroads, ending a historic 94-year run for the Texas Railroad Commission. The commission continues to be responsible for rail safety and planning in Texas as well as for administering federal money for track rehabilitation and other programs.
Texas still produces more oil and gas than any other state. If Texas were a nation, it would be in the top 10 producers in the world. While its responsibilities have changed, the Texas Railroad Commission continues to play an important role in regulating the oil and gas industry in Texas. It tracks all Texas oil and gas production, continues to hold monthly hearings and set allocations for production each month, and inspects wells and facilities for safety and compliance with other rules and regulations. It also works to protect the state’s water resources from contamination.
Recent history has seen many ups and downs for Texas oil. In the late 1970s and early 1980s, the Iranian Revolution and the Iran-Iraq War sparked high prices that made many marginal wells profitable and brought them back into service. Exploration and recovery of old fields continued to be profitable until the oil crash in 1986. This event led to bankruptcies throughout Texas and massive downsizing in the industry. Yet, more recent events in the world have led to another uptick in Texas production.
As an institution, the Texas Railroad Commission has proven remarkably flexible and resilient. Its story is the story of powerful economic forces and the efforts of one state to regulate those forces fairly. It has indeed been, as Commissioner Ernest O. Thompson put it, a “hazardous business.” Born in the 19th century, a world power in the 20th, the Railroad Commission rolls on in the 21st, to face unique challenges that only time will reveal.
For current information on the Texas Railroad Commission, its programs and activities, visit the agency web site.