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Mayor of Quake-Shaken Town Endorses Brown for Railroad Commissioner

Reno Mayor Lynda Stokes — who has criticized the Railroad Commission's response to the recent spate of earthquakes in and around town — has endorsed Democrat Steve Brown for Texas railroad commissioner.

Steve Brown, a Democratic candidate for the Railroad Commission of Texas.

The mayor of a quake-shaken North Texas town is backing Democrat Steve Brown in his bid for Texas railroad commissioner. 

Reno Mayor Lynda Stokes — who has criticized the Railroad Commission of Texas for its response to the recent spate of earthquakes in and around town that locals suspect are linked to the injection of industry waste into the Barnett Shale — said Brown has “stood with our community as we seek those answers.” 

“Texans deserve a public advocate on the Railroad Commission who will bring balance to the Commission by putting them first,” Stokes said Tuesday in a statement released by Brown’s campaign. “With Steve on the Commission, I am confident that Texas families will have a voice in Texas’ energy future.”

Brown, who in March defeated Dale Henry to earn the Democratic nomination for Chairman Barry Smitherman's open seat, is running against Ryan Sitton, an oil and gas engineer who easily won the Republican runoff this month, and Libertarian Mark Miller.

Since Nov. 1, according to U.S. Geological Survey data, at least 27 mild earthquakes have struck near the border of Parker and Tarrant counties in and around the towns of Reno and Azle. Scientists have known for decades that injecting fluid deep underground could trigger earthquakes. University researchers and the Railroad Commission’s new seismologist — the first such hire in the agency’s long history — are investigating whether local disposal wells are to blame. The agency has not made any rules changes and has struggled to piece together data. That has led critics, including Stokes, to accuse the commission of moving too slowly.

Brown, the former chairman of the Fort Bend County Democrats, has called for the shutdown of local disposal wells until researchers can rule them out as a cause.

"For months Texas landowners have been taking action, raising concerns about increased seismic activity and the unfortunate damage it does to their property and quality of life," Brown said in a statement last month. "However, all too often, their voices have been muffled and met with neglect by political insiders more interested in avoiding controversy than having a respectful dialogue."

Shutting down quake-linked disposal wells is rare, but not unheard of. Arkansas has done it. In Texas, Chesapeake Energy voluntarily shut down a disposal well at the Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport following the region’s quakes in 2009, though the company said research on the issue was not settled. In March, Ohio regulators shut down waste disposal sites near Youngstown after a series of quakes, though they said they had ruled out injection wells as the cause. 

In February, Sitton told The Dallas Morning News that he had not seen any research to suggest that disposal wells were linked to earthquakes. He did not immediately respond to interview requests on Tuesday. 

At a hearing in May, Milton Rister, executive director of the Railroad Commission, told a Texas House subcommittee studying the issue that the agency is “definitively paying attention” to the earthquakes, but “we recognize that we have to move cautiously, and a knee-jerk reaction could have a damaging impact on Texas’ economy.” 

Brown and Miller were the only Railroad Commission candidates who attended the packed meeting, which took place ahead of Sitton’s runoff with Wayne Christian.

In an interview, Miller cautioned against changing statewide regulations on disposal wells before gathering all the facts about the cause of the earthquakes. Like Brown, however, he endorsed the idea of shutting down local disposal wells during an investigation as a precaution, saying it would minimally impact the industry. 

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