PHARR, RGV – A candidate running for Railroad Commissioner visited the Rio Grande Valley on Saturday to make her pitch to voters.
Chrysta Castañeda has been in and around the oil and gas industry for 35 years, both as an engineer and an oil and gas attorney.
In her remarks, made at a breakfast meet and greet at Mi Casita Adult Day Care, Castañeda pointed out that the Railroad Commission has nothing to do with the railroad industry but rather is the regulatory body for the oil and gas industry.
“I know the business, I know how to make things better. We need desperately to have a railroad commissioner that enforces our environmental protections, which are under attack,” Castañeda told the Rio Grande Guardian.
“We need clean air, clean water and the railroad commission in Texas is the most important environmental race in the country in 2020.”
Backing up that claim, Castañeda cited numerous trade and business publications that have or plan to interview her for news stories about her race.
The incumbent Castañeda is trying to dislodge is Republican Ryan Sitton. In order to accomplish this in the November general election Castañeda must successfully negotiate the Democratic Party primary in March. She has four opponents in the primary.
“We have not won the seat statewide for 25 years. This year, I believe we will win the seat and be able to reclaim our environmental protections,” Castañeda said.
Asked about her top campaign issues, Castañeda spoke mostly about the need to eliminate the flaring of natural gas in Texas oilfields.
“We have had laws on the books for 100 years that prevent the waste of our natural gas, which, currently, the oil companies are lighting on fire. The oil is produced along with natural gas and they flare the natural gas, rather than take it to market,” Castañeda said.
“If we turned that natural gas into electricity, it would be enough to power the city of Houston. There is so much waste going on. It has been against the law for 100 years. My opponent will not enforce that law because the oil companies find it too costly to follow the law. I will enforce the law.”
Castañeda made similar remarks in a flyer she distributed to those in attendance at the meet and greet. The flyer stated:
“By allowing the flaring of enough natural gas to power Houston, the Railroad Commission is neglecting its main duty: to prevent the waste of our natural resources. This harmful practice threatens our health and the environment. I’m asking for your support so we can get the Railroad Commission back on track.”
The flyer also stated:
“Chrysta Castañeda knows the oil and gas industry from all sides. As an attorney holding the industry accountable in court, and as a former software engineer designing the computer systems that power oil and gas companies.
“Her $146 million verdict in Pecos, Texas, for a plaintiff suing oil and gas operators has been recognized by The National Law Journal and named to Texas’ Lawyer’s Verdicts Hall of Fame.”
Asked if eliminating the flaring of natural gas would hurt the profit margins of oil and gas companies, Castañeda said:
“The responsible industry players already know this is something that has to be done and they are doing it. They are converting it to electricity. They are finding alternative solutions. This is why I am the bet candidate for the Democratic Party, because I am an engineer and I know there are alternative solutions, such as generating electricity, such as putting the excess power into the grid, perhaps putting some server farms out in West Texas, which would create stable jobs for the next downturn in the oil and gas economy.”
If the flaring of natural gas on Texas oilfields is not legal, how come it is happening, Castañeda was asked. She responded:
“This flaring is against the law and the only way the companies can do it is if they get something called an exception permit. The current Railroad Commissioners are handing those out like tick tacks. They go through on a consent docket with no opposition whatsoever. I plan to force those things off the consent docket and that we actually have a discussion about them before they are granted. I believe some of these operators, if properly educated about the alternatives, will do the right thing and reduce their flaring emissions.”
Asked if other states have eliminated the flaring of natural gas, Castañeda said:
“Yes. In Oklahoma the flaring is zero. In New Mexico they have greatly tamped down on the flaring such that they are heading towards being a zero state as well. Texas, we are flaring enormous amounts of gas. Nowhere in the United States is this problem worse than in Texas.”
Besides the flaring of natural gas in Texas oilfields, Castañeda referenced two other top issues on the campaign trail.
“Besides flaring we have methane emissions which create global warming and climate change. We need to tamp down on those, which we can do through leak detection and making sure that equipment is operating correctly. Also, a lot of water is used when they frack the wells. We need to reclaim and use that water and protect our water resources,” she said.
Asked why she is so confident that a Democrat can win statewide in 2020, Castañeda said:
“We came close in 2018 with Beto O’Rourke’s (U.S. Senate) candidacy. He came very close to beating Ted Cruz. Democrats are energized. Democrats are organizing. Democrats are fired up about this election in particular. We are going to have record numbers and we are going to elect some Democrats up and down the ballot. I am very confident of this.”
Castañeda said she has traveled extensively around Texas during the primary campaign. Before her visit to the Valley the Dallas native was in Austin and Houston. He next stop after the Valley was going to be Big Spring and Midland.
“I am traveling all around the state and there is huge energy. The candidates are so talented and impressive. We are going to win some seats,” she predicted.
Asked how important the Valley is to her candidacy, Castañeda said: “Absolutely important. The population here are good Democrats and we absolutely need them to turn out out to make this happen. I plan on spending more time here to make sure I can do what I can to encourage people to get out and vote, not only in the primary but in the general election. It is mission-critical.”
Her departing message: “Vote as early as you can, lock in that vote and tell others to do so too.”
The primary election in Texas takes place March 3. Early voting runs Feb. 18 to Feb. 28.