Recently elected Railroad Commissioner Ryan Sitton of the Railroad Commission of Texas, concerned with regulating the oil and gas industry, gas utilities, and pipeline safety, said he would be making instilling confidence in Texas’ oil and gas industry, the top priority of his administration.
“There are 27 million Texans in this state and every single one benefits from oil and gas industry that is 40 percent of this state’s economy,” Sitton said. “I believe my job is this: those 27 million Texans want to be confident that the industry is developing responsibly and they look to me to make sure that’s done. If they have questions or doubts that the industry is developing responsibly then it is my job to do something about it (by) improving regulations, improving communications, getting out and answer questions from the general public or taking bad operators to task and pushing them out of the industry. All of those things are included in making the people that we work for confident.”
Sitton, of Irving, has a background in oil business, beginning in Occidental Petroleum and Marathon Oil, before starting his own oil business, Pinnacle Advanced Reliability Technologies in 2006 and going on to be elected into his office in November 2014.
“I love the history and the impact the oil and gas has, not just on our industries and our state, but the world,” Sitton said, adding his business had shaped his opinions on how the state functions and what role regulatory agencies can and should play in oil and gas production. “A couple of years ago I started getting interested in politics, first as an individual, a voter, then as a donor and a political activist, (before) finally (deciding) we need people in office, particularly in energy and energy policy, that have a genuine understanding of the way the industry works. So many of the discussions that we get into become either partisan in nature or become very simplistic in nature because people do not understand all of the ramifications and all of the facts.”
Founder of Marshall oil business Howell Oil, Rusty Howell said Sitton’s background made him well-fitted for the job of Railroad Commissioner.
“(Sitton) brings a lot to the table with his qualifications,” Howell said. “He’s only been there seven to eight months, but he’s a quick learner … I think he’ll do a fine job. (Experience) makes a lot of difference in being able to look at certain situations and understand more than the ordinary businessman.”
Sitton said the biggest learning curve that faced him stepping into his position in the political arena was understanding his place in the inner-workings of the Capitol.
“State representatives and state senators get inundated with hundreds if not thousands of bills they have to review and vote on. So, how do you advocate in a way that is respectful and not pushy,” Sitton said. “To some degree as a statewide elected official, I can’t advocate. I can’t lobby. I can share my opinion, I can be a resource, but we have to respect the rules on how I can engage and when bills come up that I have an opinion on, go and share that opinion.”
One such bill that Sitton said he does have strong opinions on is a proposed bill, submitted by State Representative Larry Philips, that would change the name of the Railroad Commission to the Texas Energy Commission.
“I think it’s a great idea,” Sitton said, adding that while the federal government took over the transportation regulation of railroads in 1984, the name stayed, making it difficult for many to identify what the Railroad Commission does today. “When I campaigned, I realized how few people in this state know what the Railroad Commission’s function is. If our primary job is to is to give citizens of this state confidence in how the energy industry is developing. Obviously, if they don’t know we’re doing it, it is a pretty difficult job to do.”
Sitton said though the bill never made it to the house floor as it came too late in the session, he believes the name change will happen during his time in office.
Sitton said confidence in Texas’ oil and gas production should be high as the state helps to provide in a global market.
“In 2008, the world consumed 85 million barrels a day of oil,” Sitton said. “Today we consume about 93 million barrels of oil a day. In 2008, Saudi Arabia and Russia each produced nine million barrels a day. Texas produced one million barrels of oil a day in 2008, producing roughly 1 percent of the world’s market, while the United States produced five million barrels of oil.”