Texas Railroad Commission Chairman David Porter Is Too Soft on Energy? Really?

After weeks spent doing all the things a politician does when gearing up to run for re-election, on Thursday Texas Railroad Commission Chairman David Porter abruptly announced that he wasn't going to run for another term after all. 

Porter made his unexpected announcement with the Monday filing deadline just around the corner — former Texas Land Commissioner Jerry Patterson and a clutch of other Texas Republicans are all considering jumping into the race now that Porter is out — but what's fascinating is the chatter surrounding why Porter has dropped his re-election bid.

Somehow, the head of a commission that is essentially an energy industry mouthpiece has been painted as being a weak supporter of Big Oil and all things energy. 

Of course, the official line from the Porter camp is that this is all a family thing:
“After much thought and consideration, my wife Cheryl and I have decided to withdraw from my race for re-election to the Railroad Commission," Porter stated. "This decision was not an easy one, but I feel that all the goals I set out to achieve were accomplished during my tenure. Now is a good time to focus on my family and my return to the private sector."
Porter started out as a CPA in Midland where he did accounting and tax services for a bunch of oil and gas producers, royalty owners and oil field service companies. And then in 2010 he won a seat on the Texas Railroad Commission. (For those who don't know, the RRC oversees all things energy-related in Texas, despite the agency's gloriously inaccurate name. From the 1930s to the 1960s the RRC set the global price on oil before it was displaced by OPEC in the 1970s.)  

Anyway, once Porter was on the RRC he proceeded to make decisions that seemed about as energy-friendly as an official charged with "regulating" the state energy industry could possibly be. When hydraulic fracturing and slant drilling started an oil boom in South Texas, Porter established the Eagle Ford Shale Task Force, a group of public officials, industry leaders, landowners and environmentalists who discussed issues surrounding all the drilling in the Eagle Ford Shale formation. (Despite the name, the the task force acted as a handy way of both acknowledging environmental concerns without ever addressing them.) Porter also was a big advocate to get Texas to find new uses for natural gas, since the Lone Star State has an abundance of the stuff.

Meanwhile, after a public outcry over repeated earthquakes in North Texas that scientists have linked to injection wells, according to the US Geological Survey, Porter and the rest of the RRC agreed to revise the rules governing how injection wells are operated last year. However, the new rules didn't actually  establish any connection between the injection wells and the earthquakes, a move which Porter defended:
“The new rules were worked out over a period of months in consultation with representatives of the oil and gas industry, which widely supported the change. These comprehensive rule amendments will allow us to further examine seismic activity in Texas and gain an understanding of how human activity may impact seismic activity, while continuing to allow for the important development of our energy resources in Texas.”
And it didn't stop there. Porter continued to toe the pro-energy party line. Last year, when Denton residents were gearing up to vote over whether to ban hydraulic fracturing (the state legislature subsequently nixed the ban) Porter even claimed that Russians had infiltrated Denton's anti-fracking movement. 

Then in June Porter was chosen as chairman of the RRC — the commissioners get to choose which of them will serve as chairman — and gearing up for his re-election bid and it seemed like everything was good to go for an energy industry supporter like Porter. But then Porter ended up facing some definite primary competition from Republican attorney and lobbyist John Greytok, and Gary Gates, a real estate developer and cattle rancher. 

This is where it all gets strange because somehow, according to Greytok, Porter hasn't been doing enough for the energy industry. Specifically, a Greytok spokesman told the Texas Tribune that Greytok feels Porter hasn't done enough to fight President Barack Obama's "war on energy." In fact, according to Greytok's logic, Porter should have been fighting alongside state Attorney Gen. Ken Paxton in the state's slew of lawsuits against the federal Environmental Protection Agency, and the RRC should have even been filing its own lawsuits as well. 

Instead of pointing out that he has actually always been downright snuggly with Texas energy interests, Porter apparently took Greytok's accusations seriously. In recent weeks he's come out with press releases sounding off about the “radical environmentalist ideology” related to climate change and speaking of how ISIS could be a terror threat to power plants and pipelines in Texas.

He even penned an editorial in the Houston Chronicle on Monday that went over the "radical green's assault on humanity," as if he was trying to secure his bona fides as a real pro-energy candidate, never seeming to stop and consider the fact that he was the incumbent candidate and chairman of a commission that you probably can't get elected to in the first place unless you're squarely, solidly an energy industry cheerleader.

Despite his tough talk, it seems that Porter ultimately was going to have to fight to prove he's an oil and gas true believer, and he wasn't up to the task. This says a lot about where things are at with the RRC. If Porter can be painted as soft on energy then what will a "real" pro-energy commissioner do once he or she gets to the office?  
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Dianna Wray is a nationally award-winning journalist. Born and raised in Houston, she writes about everything from NASA to oil to horse races.
Contact: Dianna Wray