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Libertarian Candidate: Earthquake Response Plan Falls Short

Mark Miller, a Libertarian running for railroad commissioner, is no fan of the commission’s latest effort to address earthquakes possibly linked to disposal wells for oilfield waste.

Mark Miller, Libertarian candidate for Texas railroad commissioner.

Mark Miller, a Libertarian running for railroad commissioner, is no fan of the commission’s latest effort to address earthquakes that are possibly linked to disposal wells for oilfield waste. 

The three Republican commissioners praised the agency Tuesday after unanimously approving new rules for the wells in response to the spate of earthquakes that have rattled North Texas. But in an email blast Wednesday, Miller claims the agency “fell far short of its responsibilities to the citizens of Texas.”

The number of disposal wells — deep resting places for liquid oil and gas waste — has surged amid Texas’ drilling bonanza. The trend corresponds with a cluster of earthquakes in towns like Reno and Azle, where such hazards were once unheard of. 

The new rules, supported by federal regulators, require companies to submit additional information – including historic records of earthquakes in a region — when applying to drill a disposal well. They also clarify that the commission can slow or halt injections of fracking waste into a problematic well and require companies to disclose the volume and pressure of their injections more frequently.

Miller, a petroleum engineer, made several complaints, including an objection to how operators calculate seismic zones around a drilling site. He also said the agency should have required operators to more frequently report data on the pressure and volume of wastewater injections. 

“The new rules mislead the public into believing that the modified approval process will be able to predict the circumstances under which a wastewater well will cause earthquakes,” Miller said in his release. “The Commission failed to show that the new rules would have predicted the Azle/Reno earthquake activity that kicked off this issue in late 2013.”

Steve Brown, Miller’s Democratic opponent, has called the agency’s effort a first step in addressing the earthquake concerns, but said he wants the commission to require more public notice – in newspapers and other publications – before it issues a drilling permit. And he said he was concerned that passive language in the proposal could leave companies with too much wiggle room.

Ryan Sitton, the Republican in the race, has not directly weighed in on the regulations, but says he would support restricting the use of any disposal well linked to earthquakes. He says the agency should base its decisions on “sound science and data.”

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