Courts, Congress, Regulators Take On Oil And Gas Issues

A UH Professor's Ties to Halliburton Inspires Class of a Lifetime
In less than seven days last week, Congress made moves to remove the ban on oil exports, Texas regulators found that a well did not cause an earthquake and another federal judge blocked a massive water rule.

This opinion piece presents the opinions of the author.
It does not necessarily reflect the views of Rigzone.

In less than seven days last week, a federal judge ruled that the Lesser Prairie Chicken is no longer endangered, Congress made moves to remove the ban on oil exports, Texas regulators found that a disposal well in North Texas did not cause an earthquake, and another federal judge blocked a massive water rule. 

A federal judge in Midland stripped the lesser prairie chicken of Endangered Species Act protections. District Judge Robert Junell ruled that the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service failed to make a proper evaluation of the states' conservation plan when it listed the Lesser Prairie Chicken as threatened. The suit was filed by the Permian Basin Petroleum Association.

In a bid to keep the bird off the endangered species list, the five states in the lesser prairie chicken's range organized their own conservation program, offering economic incentives to landowners and companies that set aside land. After plentiful spring rainfall, the population increased by 25 percent this year to 29,000 birds, the Western Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies says. The population growth shows the results of "boots-on-the-ground conservation," said Congressional Western Caucus Chairwoman Cynthia Lummis, who hailed the ruling.

Lift the Ban

The U.S. House of Representatives appears ready to pass legislation that could repeal the ban on crude oil exports.  The charge has been led by Joe Barton (R-Ennis), author of the bill, and Henry Cuellar (D-Laredo), who is a co-sponsor.

Cuellar said he believes the U.S. House will pass legislation lifting the country’s 40-year-old ban on most crude oil exports — even amid a frenzy of activity in the upcoming session.

The policy dates back to 1975 when President Gerald Ford signed it into law. The purpose was to keep U.S. oil in the U.S. to possibly reduce oil imports. However, in the last three years Texas has led the nation in a dramatic increase in oil production, creating an oversupply.


A hearing examiner at the Railroad Commission has determined that a series of small earthquakes in North Texas likely wasn't caused by oil and gas operations in the area. RRC examiner said in a report that the seismic activity was probably naturally occurring at much deeper depths than where the oil and gas activities took place.

XTO Energy officials testified in June under oath that the seismic activity began at 22,000 feet, and was naturally occurring, challenging a study by SMU that blamed oil and gas activity. XTO said all the earthquake clusters occurred at about 22,000 feet in the granite basement, which is thousands of feet below the Ellenberger formation. XTO's tests showed there was no pressure change in the Ellenberger formation.

XTO said that indicates all the earthquakes in the area -- including those in Irving and others in 1950 and 1985 -- have been caused by natural tectonic activity along the deep faults.

Waters of U.S.

A federal judge in North Dakota on Aug. 27 blocked a comprehensive rule on the “waters of the U.S.” The rule was scheduled to become effective on Aug. 28, but a preliminary injunction was issued against EPA and the Army Corps of Engineers. EPA said the injunction did not block implementation in Texas. However, the injunction covered 13 other states that are listed as plaintiffs.

Alex Mills is President of the Texas Alliance of Energy Producers. 


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