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Environmentalists remain highly skeptical of fracking, the drilling practice that has made this gas boom possible. On Thursday, Environment Texas released a report documenting the hundreds of millions of dollars in costs associated with shale exploration, starting with water infrastructure needs and looking ahead to long-term well problems.
Although Porter deeply believes in the promise of fracking, the task force is meant to take seriously the sorts of complaints related to drilling that the Railroad Commission has historically side-stepped.
Before the development of the Eagle Ford shale field, the railroad commissioners came in for criticism that they had been largely absent from hearings and disputes involving the Barnett shale field around Fort Worth.
Now, as a consequence of hearings involving Porter's Eagle Ford Task Force, the Railroad Commission is considering changes to its rules that would improve the recycling of water used in drilling operations and toughen the casing around drilling wells at shale plays across the state. Porter has favored stricter review of commercial disposal wells, those in which companies essentially bury byproducts of industrial processes.
Porter, in other words, has begun making his mark, suggesting in an interview a willingness to change things up at the Railroad Commission, starting with its name.
"I hate to change something that has 120 years of history, but after the thousandth time I've been asked about the train in front of someone's driveway, I'm starting to think it ought to be called the Texas Energy Commission," he joked from his 11th-floor corner office in the William B. Travis State Office Building, with a view of the Capitol only a few blocks away.
The possible rule changes derived from Porter's task force are a "move in the right direction, but they don't do a whole lot," said Luke Metzger, executive director of Environment Texas.
"I'm not sure his championing these issues has yet led to any improvements."