If the winter storm in February showed Texas anything was the pressing need for improvement in their energy and electricity industries, which is why the Texas legislature recently formalized a council, to ensure these industries meet “high priority human needs” and “address critical infrastructure concerns” in consequence that the last group failed to guarantee natural gas suppliers could transport enough fuel to power plants.
The Texas Energy Reliability Council (TERC) was created in Senate Bill 3, formalizing the loose group of industry representatives into a 25-member council, composed of electricity, energy, and environmental regulators, as well as five participants each from the natural gas supply chain and the electric industry.
Those industry representatives are appointed by state regulators, including the Railroad Commission who regulates the oil and gas industry.
According to The Texas Tribune, on Aug. 20 Tulsi Oberbeck, director of government and regulatory affairs for the Texas Oil and Gas Association, one of the most influential oil and gas industry groups in Texas, sent a very paramount email to Wei Wang, executive director of the Railroad Commission. The email included a list of four “primary” candidates for each market segment position on the council (except for local gas distribution) as well as an alternate candidate.
Those proposed candidates were as follows:
- Jason Herrick, president of Pantera Energy, representing the operation of wells producing natural gas.
- Grant Ruckel, vice president for government affairs at Energy Transfer, representing the pipelines.
- Danny Wesson, executive vice president of operations for Diamondback, representing injection and storage of produced water.
- Graham Bacon, executive vice president and chief operating officer of Enterprise Products, representing gas processing.
- Keith Wall, director of regulatory affairs for Southern Gas Operations at CenterPoint Energy, representing local gas distribution companies.
Two months later, all four of the industry groups’ top choices were confirmed to the council by regulators.
“Our criteria for recommendations to the TERC were those who hold a deep understanding of the intricacies of the natural gas system,” Oberbeck said through a spokesperson. She said that TXOGA and other oil and gas industry groups held a conference call to discuss recommendations for the council.
In contrast, the Public Utility Commission of Texas – charged with appointing market representatives for the electric sector on the council – solicited applications through a public docket. Executive Director Thomas Gleeson issued instructions for applicants in mid-September, requiring a letter of interest, qualifications, a resume, and a letter of recommendation.
Consumer advocacy groups said the Railroad Commission’s process lacked transparency and fairness, and some of the appointees were affiliated with companies that profited during the winter storm, such as Energy Transfer and Enterprise Products.
“I think it’s really concerning for the people of Texas that all of these financial interests are going to be sitting in a room making decisions for all of us,” said Virginia Palacios, executive director of Commission Shift, a newly formed Texas environment and consumer group targeting change at the Railroad Commission. “The people who profited the most from this major disaster are going to be sitting on this [council].”