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Navigating the various state and federal agencies that regulate the oil & natural gas industry can be tricky. As presidential and gubernatorial administrations change, so does the influence those administrations seek to exert over highly regulated industries, such as the energy business. Learn more below about the different government entities that enforce regulatory standards for oil and gas development in Texas and the United States.

State Regulation

The Railroad Commission was established in 1891 to regulate the rail industry of the 1800s, making it the oldest state regulatory agency in existence. It wasn’t until the discovery of oil in the Corsicana region in the late 1800s and Spindletop in 1901 that Texans realized infrastructure was needed to move this product to market. In 1917, the state legislature designated oil pipelines as common carriers and gave jurisdiction to the Railroad Commission which was already regulating a transportation industry — the railroads. By 1919, the commission was also granted jurisdiction over oil and gas production. It was at that date that the Oil & Gas Division was created at the state agency. Before the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) was established, the Railroad Commission’s influence even set the world oil prices at times. Although the commission no longer regulates railroads, the agency holds the lionshare of oil and natural gas regulatory authority in Texas. 

During the 1990s, the Texas Legislature moved to make natural-resource protection more efficient by consolidating programs. This trend culminated in the creation of the Texas Natural Resource Conservation Commission in the Fall of 1993 as a comprehensive environmental protection agency for Texas. The name was later changed in 2001 to the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ), and the agency now oversees aspects of air as well as water permitting and quality across the state, along with a range of other environmental management.

Federal Regulation

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) was established on December 2, 1970, to consolidate in one agency a variety of federal research, monitoring, standard-setting and enforcement activities to ensure environmental protection. Specifically, the EPA sets various air permitting and water quality standards that can impact oil and natural gas production. Certain regulatory authority has been granted by the EPA to state regulators such as the Railroad Commission of Texas and Texas Commission on Environmental Quality, while other federal rules are still enforced directly by the EPA.

The United States Department of Interior (DOI) has numerous areas of oversight pertaining to oil and natural gas operations in Texas through the various bureaus managed by the agency. These issues include oversight of the Endangered Species Act through the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, management of offshore drilling and safety through the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management and the Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement, and manage the production of minerals on federal lands through the Bureau of Land Management, to name a few.

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) was created by the Occupational Safety and Health Act of 1970 to assure safe and healthful working conditions for working men and women by setting and enforcing standards and by providing training, outreach, education and assistance.

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