It’s a common feature of Austin lobby organizations—they often seem to represent the interests of lobbyists against the interests of their own members. It appears that the Texas Oil & Gas Association, under the leadership of former Agriculture Commissioner Todd Staples, has fallen into that trap as well.

A review of TXOGA’s 2018 primary endorsements present some very curious names. In this year’s primaries TXOGA backed the following Texas House Democrats:

Ryan Guillen (Rio Grande City)
Abel Herrero (Robstown)
René Oliveira (Brownsville)
Mando Martinez (Weslaco)
Richard Raymond (Laredo)
Poncho Nevárez (Eagle Pass)
Tracy King (Batesville)
Roberto Alonzo (Dallas)
Diana Arévalo (San Antonio)
Philip Cortez (San Antonio)
Jarvis Johnson (Houston)
Armando Walle (Houston)
Garnet Coleman (Houston)

One of the key issues for TXOGA is defending the ability of the industry to engage in hydraulic fracturing, or “fracking.” Yet the Texas Democratic Party’s platform is squarely opposed to the industry on fracking.

[Texas Democrats] support:

  • the use and development of renewable energy, while recognizing the importance of the oil and gas industry and seek safe, responsible and well-regulated fracking and other tertiary recovery. Science has shown that large quantities of methane are released in fracking operations, and that such releases are much more powerful in heating our climate than carbon emissions. Fracking should continue only with strict regulation that prevents negative impacts to communities, to our air and water, and to our climate;the rights of local governments and voters to regulate oil and gas operations within their communities, including the right to establish setbacks and bans on hydraulic fracturing; therefore, Texas must repeal House Bill 40 (84R), the law restricting those rights;
  • the rights of local governments and voters to regulate oil and gas operations within their communities, including the right to establish setbacks and bans on hydraulic fracturing; therefore, Texas must repeal House Bill 40 (84R), the law restricting those rights;
  • the investigation and resolution of the deleterious effects of fracking, including the increased incidence of earthquakes from the disposal of liquids into injection wells

Later in the document, the Democrats attack the Texas Railroad Commission, calling it “little more than a rubber stamp for businesses that damage air and water supplies in the name of profit.” Amongst other actions, the Democrats call for massively increasing the power of the Commission while cutting groups like TXOGA out of the political process.

  • [T]he Railroad Commission should look with greater scrutiny at natural gas producers who use damaging fracking techniques as a means of producing natural gas;
  • the impact of methane emissions on climate should be recognized and controlled;
  • political contributions to Railroad Commissioners from the oil and gas industry should be banned; [and]
  • penalties levied by the Railroad Commission should be significant enough to deter energy production practices that cause pollution[.]

Lest one believe that the 13 Democrats backed by TXOGA are out-of-step with their party’s anti-petroleum stances, a review of their voting records shows many of them specifically opposing TXOGA’s legislative agenda.

For example, TXOGA endorsed Roberto Alonzo despite the fact that he voted against HB 40 in 2015, which stopped local governments from passing ordinances interfering with oil and gas production.

During the 2017 session, TXOGA’s only major stated legislative priority was to get a Railroad Commission sunset bill passed. Despite that, TXOGA endorsed Armando Walle and Diana Arevalo even though they voted against the bill.

A look at amendments to the RRC sunset bill shows additional examples of TXOGA’s Democrat endorsees working against the interests of the oil and gas industry.

When one amendment was offered to shorten the sunset period from 2029 to 2023, Arevalo, Coleman, Cortez, Herrero, Johnson, Martinez, Oliveira, and Walle all supported it. And when an amendment to increase the Railroad Commission’s daily fines was offered, Coleman, Cortez, Herrero, Martinez, Nevarez, and Walle all voted for it. Likewise, Arevalo, Herrero, Nevarez, Johnson, Martinez, Oliveira, and Walle all voted for an amendment to require the Commission to have a public hearing every time there is a proposed injection well located in a large municipality. All of those policies would have been big setbacks for oil and gas interests.

TXOGA has also consistently supported the more liberal/establishment option in the Republican primary, for example backing State Rep. Cindy Burkett (R–Sunnyvale) over State Sen. Bob Hall (R–Edgewood) for Senate District 2, State Rep. Sarah Davis (R–West University Place) over Gov. Abbott’s preferred candidate, Susanna Dokupil, in the HD 134 race, and Cody Harris over Thomas McNutt in the open HD 8 open race.

The only explanation for these endorsements that makes sense is that Staples and TXOGA have gone native, supporting liberal Democrats because they are popular with the Austin lobby class, not because they are good for the oil and gas industry.

Tony McDonald

Tony McDonald serves as General Counsel to Texas Scorecard. A licensed and practicing attorney, Tony specializes in the areas of civil litigation, legislative lawyering, and non-profit regulatory compliance. Tony resides in Austin with his wife and daughter and attends St. Paul Lutheran Church.