DALLAS (CBSDFW.COM) – Railroad Commissioner Ryan Sitton says he “takes exception” to Mayor Mike Rawlings’ comments at this week’s Dallas City Council meeting. Rawlings was discussing safety concerns with Atmos Energy’s CEO when he mentioned that he couldn’t get a recent safety audit from the Railroad Commission. Rawlings then said, “I’m trying to figure out what our state railroad commission does for a living.”
Sitton was in Dallas today for an Earth Day event. He spoke to Cristin Severance about the mayor’s remarks. “Unfortunately in these types of incidents, people in an elected office can look to blame somebody… can look to throw insults around,” said Sitton. “The fact is, if [Mayor Rawlings] really wanted to know that, he could have called me and he didn’t.”
Sitton also talked about the explosion that killed a girl in Northwest Dallas last month. He says both the Railroad Commission and the National Transportation Safety Board are investigating, and it’s too early to say if Atmos could have done more to prevent the blast. A previous I-Team report found in the two years before the explosion the commission cited Atmos 17 times for its Dallas pipeline, including for hazardous leaks that were “not repaired promptly.”
Sitton says Atmos is focused on preventing another tragedy. “They are monitoring very closely the lines like this in the area. They are looking for leaks… if they do see them, they are taking very active steps to see what could be causing them.”
He added, “My job is to make sure the citizens of the state are as comfortable as they can be in how [oil and gas] industries are operated.” Sitton says both the Railroad Commission and the National Transportation Safety Board are investigating the explosion. “At the end of the day our job is – we do not operate pipelines, we create the rules that all of the industry in this state follows.”
Sitton also responded to Monday’s Consumer Justice report about the commission’s role in the state’s high natural bills. The Railroad Commission has approved every rate increase request made by Atmos over the last decade. During that time natural gas prices have gone down, while commissioners have taken tens of thousands of dollars in campaign donations from oil and gas companies. Sitton defended the practice. “If you look at my track record in commission cases, I will vote against companies if I don’t think it’s right all the time,” he said. “People may say those sort of things but it really doesn’t align with our history and the way we have functioned.”
As for the rate increases, Sitton says any request goes through a “regimented process” to make sure the hike is necessary. Atmos recently filed a request for an increase for about 150 cities in Texas. It would not affect Dallas, which negotiates rates on its own.