In 2018, the Railroad Commission began work toward the ambitious goal of inspecting every one of the nearly 440,000 oil and gas wells in the state at least once every five years. The agency is well on its way to exceeding its goal again this year.
One of the Texas Legislature’s performance measures for the RRC tracks the percentage of wells that are uninspected in a five-year cycle. For the 2020-21 biennium the goal is to have that percentage be 5% or less in each fiscal year. The Commission also employs a risk-based approach in determining inspection sites, through which high priority wells and facilities are inspected more frequently than the five-year interval in accordance with the agency’s Oil and Gas Monitoring and Enforcement Plan.
At the end of fiscal year 2020 only 1% of wells had not been inspected in a five-year cycle. RRC inspectors are well ahead of pace in fiscal year 2021. In the year before instituting the goal to inspect every well at least once in a five-year cycle, 58% of oil and gas wells had not been inspected at that interval. Since the goal was instituted in fiscal year 2018, the agency has exceeded the annual goal each fiscal year.
The benefit of the increased frequency of inspections, which determine compliance with Commission rules, has been a broad reduction in the number of violations for oil and gas wells.
“We have worked diligently toward achieving this goal,” said RRC Director of Field Operations Clay Woodul. “Our inspectors deserve all the credit for this accomplishment, which is even more impressive considering the pandemic we have been dealing with.”
Technology improvements have allowed the Railroad Commission to become more efficient in utilizing its limited resources. In 2015, the implementation of the ICE reporting system, which is a web-based application and stands for Inspection, Compliance, and Enforcement, gave the agency the ability to track inspections at the well level, rather than by lease. This helped the agency map wells and identify those wells that had not been inspected in the previous five years.
Field inspectors, who often work in remote parts of the state, were given the ability to file their reports remotely using ICE without the need for an internet connection. Reports are uploaded when a connection is available. Among other features, ICE also provides inspectors with access to comprehensive, real-time data to help them determine compliance while on site, rather than waiting until they return to a district office.
The Railroad Commission continues to set the bar higher for itself. For fiscal years 2022 and 2023, the agency’s goal is to reduce still further the percentage of wells uninspected in a five-year cycle to below 0.25%.