Texas agency responds to regulator’s firing claims by Mike Soraghan, October 4, 2013, E&E News
Texas’ oil and gas agency is denying accusations that it fired one of its regulators for trying to enforce the rules on drilling companies. The Texas Railroad Commission, which oversees oil and gas but not trains, has filed an answer to the suit of former engineering specialist Frederick Wright in Harris County District Court in Houston. The response asserted legal defenses but did not offer specifics to rebut the accusations Wright has made. The agency, the response states, “denies the allegations of wrongdoing under state law contained in plaintiff’s original petition and demands strict proof of each element.” The three-page response filed by the Texas attorney general’s office says the decisions of the agency’s managers were “appropriate and taken for legitimate reasons.”
Wright, a petroleum engineer who’d been employed as an engineering specialist, was fired June 20, according to his suit. He is demanding
reinstatement, back pay and other lost compensation (EnergyWire, Sept. 3). The suit, filed by Houston attorney Kristen Capps, pointed its accusations at the headquarters of the Texas Railroad Commission, alleging that a senior manager created a “pretext” to fire him by asking an oil company to file a complaint against him. As the lead oil and gas agency in the United States’ biggest drilling state, the Railroad Commission occupies a unique place. Its leaders and supporters, including many in the oil and gas industry, deem it a premier regulator. But it also has a reputation in some quarters for lax enforcement and coziness with the industry it is expected to oversee.
Wright alleges that the series of events that led to his firing began in February when he was pressured to let two oil companies break the rules. He said his boss, the Houston district director, told him to approve completion reports for wells even though they violated regulations. [Emphasis added]