Railroad Commission of Texas, Oil and Gas Division:
An Inventory of Oil and Gas Division Original Orders at the Texas State Archives, 1928-1977
The Railroad Commission of Texas regulates the exploration, production, and transportation of oil and natural gas in Texas. Its statutory role is to prevent waste of the state's natural resources, to protect the correlative rights of different interest owners, to prevent pollution, and to provide safety in matters such as hydrogen sulfide. It oversees hazardous materials pipelines and natural gas pipelines and distribution systems as well as propane, butane, compressed natural gas, and liquefied natural gas. It works to make sure a continuous, safe supply of natural gas is available to Texas consumers at the lowest reasonable price. Additionally, the Commission regulates surface mining for coal, uranium, and iron ore gravel, and conducts a program for reclaiming lands that were mined and abandoned before 1975.
The Railroad Commission of Texas had its origin in the demands of the shipping public in the late 1880s that insisted that railroads be subject to regulation based on public interest. An advocate for governmental regulation, Attorney General James Stephen Hogg ran for Governor in 1890 with the issue of railroad regulation as the focal point of the campaign. Hogg was elected Governor in the general election and the voters also approved an amendment to Article X, Section 2 of the Texas Constitution that empowered the Legislature to enact statutes creating regulatory agencies. These elections paved the way for the Legislature to enact on April 3, 1891 "An Act to Establish a Railroad Commission of the State of Texas," that later was placed in the Texas Revised Civil Statutes under article 6444 et seq. (House Bills 1, 3, and 58, 22nd Texas Legislature, Regular Session).
The Commission originally consisted of three members appointed by the Governor for three-year terms. Governor Hogg appointed the first three Commissioners in 1891 including John H. Reagan, who resigned as U.S. Senator from Texas to serve as the first Chairman. The Texas Constitution, Article XIX, Section 30 was amended in 1894 to provide for elective six-year overlapping terms for the Commissioners. That same year John H. Reagan was elected and served until his retirement in 1903.
The Texas Railroad Commission was the first regulatory agency created in the State of Texas and originally had jurisdiction over the rates and operations of railroads, terminals, wharves and express companies. The legal focus was on intrastate passenger and freight activities. Interstate jurisdiction fell under the U.S. Interstate Commerce Commission. For the first twenty-five years of its existence, the Railroad Commission was largely concerned with regulating railroads, setting rates, receiving complaints, and making investigations. As other controversies arose where the Legislature deemed that the public interest could best be served by regulation, additional duties were assigned to the Railroad Commission.
The Railroad Commission's authority was broadened beginning in 1917 with the passage of the Pipeline Petroleum Law (Senate Bill 68, 35th Legislature, Regular Session) that declared pipelines to be common carriers like railroads and placed them under the Commission's jurisdiction. This was the first act to designate the Railroad Commission as the agency to administer conservation laws relating to oil and gas. The Commission's regulatory and enforcement powers in oil and gas were increased by the Oil and Gas Conservation Law (Senate Bill 350 of the 36th Legislature, Regular Session), effective June 18, 1919. This act gave the Railroad Commission jurisdiction to regulate the production of oil and gas. Acting upon this legislation, the Commission adopted in 1919 the first statewide rules regulating the oil and gas industry to promote conservation and safety, including Rule 37. This rule requires minimum distances between wells at drilling sites in order to protect field pressure and correlative rights.
The Oil and Gas Division works to prevent the waste of oil, gas, and geothermal resources and to prevent the pollution of fresh water from oil and gas operations. The division holds statewide hearings on market demand and provides for equitable production among operators by establishing monthly production allowables. It issues drilling permits, reviews and approves oil and gas well completions, collects data on oil and gas operations, and promotes public safety. It also protects underground drinking water through regulation of the underground injection of fluids in oil field operations, a program approved by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency under the Federal Safe Drinking Water Act. It oversees well plugging operations, site remediation, underground hydrocarbon storage, hazardous waste management, and maintains a large amount of data on wells - their location, production, etc. The division also investigates complaints and conducts other investigations. This division maintains 10 district offices where field enforcement and support personnel monitor oil and gas operations. The commission does not have the authority to set oil and gas prices at the wellhead. The departments within the Oil and Gas Division are: Administration, Technical Permitting, Field Operations, Administrative Compliance, and the Oil Field Cleanup Program, which includes Site Remediation and Well Plugging.
(Sources: Guide to Texas State Agencies, various editions; general laws and statutes; the Railroad Commission website (http://www.rrc.state.tx.us/about/index.php), accessed on February 9, 2009; and the records themselves.)
The Railroad Commission, through its Oil and Gas Division, regulates the exploration, production, and transportation of oil and natural gas in Texas. These records are original orders, notices of hearings, postponements of hearings, and special emergency rules of the Oil and Gas Division. The records date from 1928 to 1977.
Original orders were issued by the Division to govern the drilling, completion, and operation of wells in the field. They were issued under a general directive for the "conservation and prevention of waste of crude petroleum and natural gas."
The Division held hearings conducted by engineers and legal examiners concerning field rules, secondary recovery projects, and maximum efficient rates of production. These hearings, and the original orders that were issued as a result, established the minimum spacing and acreage requirements for an individual oil well and determined the size of a proration unit. The proration units determined the prorated, daily allowance for each oil well in production and set the daily total oil field allowable.
Other specific examples of original orders include plugging wells to prevent fresh water pollution, approval of a unitization agreement, adopting a net gas-oil ratio rule for the field, and permitting water flooding and injection operations in a reservoir. These types of original orders were concerned with conservation and prevention of waste and usually affected an entire reservoir or field.
Original orders are also listed in the minutes of the Railroad Commission under "Special Orders" (see Railroad Commission of Texas, Minutes, 1891-1996) but are in summary form and do not provide as much information as the actual order itself.
Original orders from 1978 forward are maintained by the Railroad Commission of Texas. The Commission also maintains hearing files.
This finding aid describes one series of the Railroad Commission of Texas records. See Railroad Commission of Texas: An Overview of Records for more records series.
Restrictions on Access
Materials housed in the State Archives do not circulate, but may be used in the State Archives search room. Materials will be retrieved from and returned to storage areas by staff members.
Restrictions on Use
Most records created by Texas state agencies are not copyrighted and may be freely used in any way. State records also include materials received by, not created by, state agencies. Copyright remains with the creator. The researcher is responsible for complying with U.S. Copyright Law (Title 17 U.S.C.).
(Identify the item), Oil and Gas Division original orders, Railroad Commission of Texas. Archives and Information Services Division, Texas State Library and Archives Commission.
Accession numbers: 1982/328, 1982/358, 1983/055
These records were transferred to the Archives and Information Services Division of the Texas State Library and Archives Commission by the Railroad Commission of Texas on June 23, August 9, and November 17, 1982.
Described by Paul B. Beck, January 1986
DACS compliance by Laura K. Saegert, February 2009
Microfilm copies of these records are available at the Railroad Commission of Texas.
Detailed Description of the Records