In early January 2011, I took office as Texas’s newest Railroad Commissioner. From that vantage point, it appeared the industry’s major problem was a lack of production to meet demands for oil and gas, in large part sparked by the hostility of the Obama administration towards fossil fuels. The federal government’s hostility for oil and gas operations was expressed primarily by actions using regulatory overreach to discourage production. Much of our activity at the commission was directed at the need to maintain the primary regulation of oil and gas at the state rather than the federal level in order to thwart this threat to the oil and gas industry and the economy.
Over the past three or four years, it seems the efforts of the anti-oil-and-gas crowd have transferred away from using regulatory overreach to reduce supply to efforts demanding renewable sources of electricity and electric vehicles. This approach seems to be having more success in limiting production for its proponents than their earlier approaches. However, it has even more serious consequences for the people of the United States, including Texas. I thought it was highly ironic (considering Obama’s disdain and opposition to the oil and gas industry) that the industry was the source of the strongest economic growth during his term in office. The jobs brought about by exploration activity, the increased revenues due to the increase in production, the reduction in imports of oil into the country all strengthened the economy. This led to, in the early days of the Trump administration, the United States becoming the largest oil and gas producer in the world. Now under the Biden regime, we are in the process of throwing away that hard-won status. It saddens me to think of all the work of hundreds of thousands of people trying to find better technology and methods of drilling wells — work that led to the horizontal drilling boom. It also saddens me to think about all the billions of dollars invested in drilling wells — yes, some were not economically viable, but that is the price that is paid as part of the learning curve when developing new methods and technology.
The February blackouts show one of the consequences of reducing the usage of fossil fuels by requiring renewables. Unfortunately, I will predict that unless Texas has a mild season, there is a good chance that this summer, we will also have blackouts. My study of the electrical industry leads me to the opinion that anytime electric production by wind crosses the 10 to 12% threshold, there are potential negative long-term consequences for grid reliability. Texas is there. For additional information on this topic, I would like to direct you to David Blackmon’s writing, Texas Public Policy Foundation’s work, and John Hays’ recent article in Chronicles Magazine. Before I end this article, I want to throw out one more thought for the reader to consider. What kind of shape would the grid have been in during the February blackouts if we had at that time the amount of electric car usage predicted for 2030?
I concur with the discussion around Texas that the power infrastructure should have been better winterized and better attention paid to making sure the electric blackouts didn’t affect natural-gas infrastructure — effects that would reduce electric production. These were also conclusions after the winter of 2011 problems. I understand why (while not agreeing with) electric-power producers would not want to spend money on what much of the government, media and elite society consider a dying industry that is on the way out. Ideas have consequences, and the idea that oil and gas production needs to be phased out has negative consequences, consequences that have a real impact on our lives.
About the author: David Porter has served as a Railroad Commissioner (2011–17) and Chairman (2015–16), as well as Vice Chairman of the Interstate Oil and Gas Compact Commission (2016). Prior to service on the Commission, Porter spent 30 years in Midland, Texas, as a CPA working with oil and gas producers, service companies and royalty owners. Since leaving the Commission, Porter works as a consultant for oil and gas companies. He also serves as Chairman of the 98th Meridian Foundation, a nonprofit concerned with water, energy and land issues.