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Brown Proposes Local Councils to Ease Drilling Concerns

Steve Brown, the Democratic candidate for railroad commissioner, on Thursday called for shale communities to form councils that would address tension between drillers and residents. Ryan Sitton, his Republican opponent, dismissed the plan.

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

*Editor's note: This story has been updated to include a response from Mark Miller.

Steve Brown, the Democratic candidate for railroad commissioner, on Thursday called for shale communities — with the state's guidance — to form councils to address quality-of-life concerns related to oil and gas production and waste disposal. 

His opponents both criticized the idea, saying it would add an unnecessary layer of government. 

Brown’s plan would create what he calls "Public Health and Safety Empowerment" councils — volunteer groups that would “work with operators to monitor ongoing activities, and advise the RRC on risk mitigation strategies to ameliorate health and safety impacts,” he said.  

The councils would consist of public health and emergency response officials, representatives from homeowners associations, local governments, school boards, energy companies and realtor associations, he said. They would also include an “at-large community representative." The Texas Commission on Environmental Quality would also play a role. 

"We simply need a better process for determining how industry activity and residential life should co-exist in our state," Brown said in a statement.

It's not rare for urban communities to assemble such advisory groups to draw up new drilling ordinances. Brown said his plan would set up a “uniform process” for assembling such councils. The groups would differ from those that may already exist, he said, because they could address smaller issues — such as noise complaints at individual drill sites — regardless of whether the government is mulling new rules.

Jared Craighead, Sitton’s spokesman, dismissed Brown’s ideas.

“We wouldn’t even characterize it as a proposal. There’s so little detail about what he’s trying to accomplish,” he said. “The thing he throws out are big-government solutions, and we clearly feel this is not the right way that the Railroad Commission should be operated.”

Brown said that he did not expect the groups to cost much to assemble, but that he would be willing to seek taxpayer funds to carry out the certain decisions by the group, such as the need to purchase air monitors or other equipment. 

Mark Miller, the Libertarian candidate for railroad commissioner, called Brown's plan a "solution in search of a problem."

"The impact of oil and gas operations on local communities is best dealt with by the local communities themselves," he said in an email. "An additional layer of government is both unwieldy and unnecessary."

Miller has proposed to earmark a portion of production taxes for block grants that would help drilling communities address industry-related issues. 

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