New regulations prepare Texas for severe winter weather

New regulations prepare Texas for severe winter weather

Isabel Webb Carey
Isabel Webb Carey
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August 31, 2022

The Texas Railroad Commission on Tuesday approved regulations designed to prepare Texas for severe winter weather. The move comes a year after the state underwent the storm that brought days of subfreezing temperatures and widespread power outages, causing billions of dollars in damages and hundreds of deaths. 

The legislation requires oil and gas companies to be able to continue operating during a weather emergency and to submit annual reports to the Texas Railroad Commission, which regulates the state’s massive oil and gas sector, outlining what they have done to ensure their facilities won’t fail during weather emergencies. If companies do not comply with the new rules, they would be subject to a minimum $5,000 fine and a maximum fine of $1 million.

However, the rules do not specify the standards the agency’s inspectors will use to measure readiness, and critics argue that the fee structure is too lenient for natural gas companies with violations, because they would rather pay a $5,000 fine than the cost of insulating their equipment. Moreover, they only apply to the gas supply chain facility operators and gas pipeline facility operators that are included in a supply chain map the agency created this year to chart the state’s energy infrastructure, as mandated by lawmakers during the 2021 legislative session.

While the Railroad Commission took more than a year to implement weatherization standards, the Texas Public Utility Commission, which oversees the state’s power grid operator — the Electric Reliability Council of Texas —implemented rules last fall requiring power plants to fix “acute” issues exposed by the February 2021 disaster. Those rules were based on recommendations that were made — but never acted upon — a decade ago by experts and federal regulators after a 2011 winter storm caused widespread rolling power outages.

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Isabel Webb Carey

Isabel Webb Carey

Isabel Webb Carey attends the University of Texas at Austin in the Plan II Honors Program with a certificate in Core Texts and Ideas. Her interests include education, local governance, sustainability, and equity. Isabel enjoys dancing, hiking, and live music. She is also a staff writer for the Texas Orator. Email her at isabelwebbcarey@gmail.com
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