- Associated Press - Sunday, June 19, 2016

EL PASO, Texas (AP) - The agency charged with protecting the Texas environment has declined to say whether it has any record of oil slicks and inundated fracking sites shown in photographs of flooding on several rivers in 2015 and 2016.

The photos, which were taken by the Civil Air Patrol, were posted on a University of Texas website before the Department of Public Safety removed them from public view, citing safety concerns. The El Paso Times reports (https://bit.ly/1W7ykaL ) that the photos were removed shortly after it began reporting on the images in May.

The Texas Commission on Environmental Quality coordinates the response to spills, but it referred questions about the flood photos to the Texas Railroad Commission, an agency that has been repeatedly criticized for inadequate record keeping and rules enforcement when oil or other toxic chemicals spill into state waterways. The commission is responsible for ensuring the cleanup.

The newspaper tried to get answers about how many oil spills were in the photos or whether the agency did anything to monitor the railroad commission’s response.

“I would think TCEQ would be able to at least tell you what role they have been playing,” said Ken Kramer, water resources chairman of the Lone Star Chapter of the Sierra Club. “If TCEQ had been interacting with the Railroad Commission, they should be able to tell the public about it.”



Texas politics have long hamstrung the environmental agency when it comes to oil - and now fracking fluid - escaping into state waterways, Kramer said. Who should have primacy on water-quality issues “has been an issue for decades in Texas,” he said, adding: “It’s testament to the ongoing influence of the oil-and-gas industry that they have been able to promote the Railroad Commission as the agency.”

The railroad commission is responsible for regulating the oil-and-gas industry in Texas. It reported having some records of cleanups from some spills, but in at least one instance, a spill was not listed in the agency’s spill database even though it had a cleanup report, the newspaper reported.

The commission had an abysmal record of documenting spills or penalizing companies that pollute, according to a report this year by the Sunset Review Commission. The legislative watchdog group periodically reviews state agencies to determine if they’re effective or even necessary.

In the past, Ramona Nye, spokeswoman for the railroad commission, said it’s a violation of commission rules any time oil and chemicals are spilled into the environment, regardless of whether raging floodwaters are the cause.

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Information from: El Paso Times, https://www.elpasotimes.com

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