Railroad Commission of Texas:
An Inventory of Railroad Commission Minutes at the Texas State Archives, 1891-2004
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 Gas Utilities Act of 1920 (House Bill 11, 36th Legislature, 3rd Called Session) gave the Commission regulatory and rate authority over individuals and businesses producing, transporting, or distributing natural gas in Texas. In 1937, following a large natural gas explosion in a school in New London, Texas, the 45th Legislature passed legislation giving the Railroad Commission the authority to adopt rules and regulations pertaining to the odorization of natural gas or liquefied petroleum gases (House Bill 1017, Regular Session).
The passage of the Public Regulatory Act of 1975 (PURA) (House Bill 819, 64th Legislature, Regular Session) required certain state regulatory agencies, including the Commission, to set the overall revenues of a utility based on its "cost of service." Regulation of liquefied petroleum was added to the Commission's responsibilities in 1939 by the 46th Legislature (House Bill 792, Regular Session). The legislation authorized the Commission to adopt and enforce safety rules and standards in the storage, handling, transportation, and odorization of butane or LP-gases. Regulation of compressed natural gas was added to the Railroad Commission's responsibilities in 1983 (Senate Bill 617, 68th Legislature, Regular Session).
The Motor Bus Law of 1927, House Bill 50, 40th Legislature, Regular Session, and the Motor Carrier Law of 1929, House Bill 654, 41st Legislature, Regular Session, extended the Commission's regulatory powers to commercial transportation of persons and property on state highways. In 1995, following federal deregulation of motor carriers, the 74th Legislature eliminated the agency's authority to regulate commercial carriers involved in intrastate transport and transferred the remaining responsibilities related to commercial carriers (motor carrier registration, insurance verification, and safety) to the Texas Department of Transportation (Senate Bill 971, Regular Session), and the Department of Public Safety (Senate Bill 3, Regular Session).
The Texas Surface Mining and Reclamation Act of 1975, Senate Bill 55, 64th Legislature, Regular Session, authorized the Commission to regulate the exploration for and surface mining of coal, lignite, and uranium within the state and to oversee the reclamation of lands disturbed by surface mining operations. In 1991, the 72nd Legislature, Regular Session, passed House Bill 451, the Texas Aggregate Quarry and Pit Safety Act, that authorized the Commission to regulate quarry and pit operations.
Railroad regulation was initially overseen by the Main Office, later the Main and Transportation Division, then the Transportation Division and finally the Rail Division. This division was responsible for checking equipment and track, railroad and signal operations, and hazardous material handling; conducting investigations of accidents and complaints concerning railroads; and securing federal funds to improve branch lines and preserve rail service to rural areas. The Division enforced rules aimed at removing obstructions on railroad rights-of-way and operated a crossing safety education program. In 2005, the Rail Division and its remaining function, rail safety regulation, were transferred to the Texas Department of Transportation (House Bill 2702, 79th Legislature, Regular Session). The Railroad Commission no longer has any railroad-related functions.
(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 of Texas (RRC) initially had jurisdiction over the rates and operations of railroads, terminals, wharves and express companies. Today the Railroad Commission of Texas regulates the exploration, production, and transportation of oil and natural gas and surface mining for coal, uranium, and iron ore gravel. 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. These minutes are the official record of the meetings of the Railroad Commission of Texas and document the actions and orders of the commissioners, covering the years 1891-2004. Other items include notices of hearings, orders, circulars, and special notices. Matters before the Commission documented in the minutes include the establishment of and changes in railroad freight and passenger rates, train schedules, tariff classifications, requests to discontinue passenger stations, amendments to rules, complaints, and other railroad issues; contested oil and gas cases, complaints on violated Commission oil and gas rules (e.g. operator not in compliance with plugging rules), changes in policies and procedures, amendments to rules, resolution of complaints filed against the Commission, and other related matters concerning oil and gas regulation (production/permitting, oil field clean up, site remediation, compliance, etc.); issues concerning the operation of motor vehicles; gas utility regulation; liquefied petroleum gas and other gas services issues; regulation of pipelines; and surface mining and reclamation issues. Minutes from 1891 to the end of the 1910s are primarily concerned with railroad rates and regulations.
Beginning in 1917 with pipeline regulation, the minutes begin to record the Commission's activities in other areas. The establishment of the Oil and Gas Division, the Gas Utilities (later Gas Services) Division, and the Motor Transportation Division expanded greatly the Commission's jurisdiction and the minutes reflect these changes. The activities of the divisions added large dockets of cases, hearings and orders to the minutes. These divisions came to dominate the meetings of the Commission and the minutes as railroad regulation decreased and other areas of regulation became more complex.
Topics covered in the minutes include regulation and operation of railroads, including railroad companies' annual operations, rail construction, and setting freight and passenger rates; oil and gas activities, including the issuance of orders governing drilling of oil and gas wells and the operation of the fields; oil and gas conservation and safety, including spacing of wells; disposal of oil and gas waste and pollution cleanup efforts; natural gas issues, include rate hearings, deregulation, and odorization of natural gas; and issuance of permits or certificates of convenience to operate commercial motor vehicles on public highways.
The minutes from 1891 to 1972 are in bound volumes and from 1973 to 2004 on microfilm. During the microfilming process Reel 81 was skipped. The microfilm through 1996 exists only as master negatives and is stored offsite, so paper use copies of the minutes have been retained for 1979-1995. The microfilm reels for 1997-2004 are use copies stored at the Archives building and are available for research use. Each of the pre-1920 volumes of minutes have a brief subject index in the front of the volume. The post-1920 volumes, the microfilm, and the paper sets of minutes do not have indexes. Orders, circulars and other attachments are only found in the microfilm copies of the minutes. Agendas and minutes from 1998 to the present are posted on the Railroad Commission's website, see http://www.rrc.state.tx.us/meetings/conferences/index.php
This finding aid describes a single series of the Railroad Commission of Texas records. See Railroad Commission of Texas: An Overview of Records for more records series.
To prepare this inventory, the described materials were cursorily reviewed to delineate series, to confirm the accuracy of contents lists, to provide an estimate of dates covered, and to determine record types.
Restrictions on Access
Microfilm of the minutes for 1973 to 1996 are in off-site storage at the State Records Center on master negative microfilm. This film is unique and fragile and requires that a duplicate use copy be made of any reel that a researcher wishes to view. A duplicate use copy can be made at the researcher's expense. Arrangements for duplication and prepayment need to be made with the State and Local Records Management Division of the Texas State Library and Archives Commission.
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.).
Microfilm readers are available in the State Library and Archives building, ask the reference staff for their location.
(Identify the item), Railroad Commission of Texas minutes. Archives and Information Services Division, Texas State Library and Archives Commission.
Accession numbers: 1978/152, 1998/184, 2002/048, 2003/038, 2005/009, 2009/104
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 August 16, 1978; June 22, 1998; October 17, 2001; September 13, 2004; and March 3, 2009; and from the Legislative Reference Library on October 18, 2002
Processed by Paul Beck, April 1987
Additions to the minutes and extensive revisions of the finding aid by Laura K. Saegert, September 2003
Additions to the minutes and DACS compliance by Laura K. Saegert, March 2009
Additions to the minutes are transferred every few years to the Archives.
Paper copies of the minutes are present for 1979-1995. These were maintained because the microfilm for those years only exists as a master copy and is stored offsite.
Detailed Description of the Records