World Oil analysis: Texas Railroad commissioners face difficult decision on prorationing

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Kurt Abraham | World Oil

The special open meeting on potential prorationing, held by the Railroad Commission of Texas (RRC) on Tuesday, was an event for the ages—a truly historic moment. In its aftermath, the three Railroad commissioners are faced with what may be the major decision of their professional lives—whether to prorate or not. And, in tandem, the fate of many industry companies and individuals’ jobs could be hanging in the balance.

Commission Chairman Wayne Christian referred to the magnitude of the decision facing the commissioners, when he said at the end of Tuesday’s meeting, “It’s humbling to realize the position we find ourselves in. There’s hundreds of thousands of folks in this industry, and their families and their kids out there (in Texas), and my heart goes out to them. I will pray for myself and pray for my fellow commissioners.”

One has to give the commissioners—Christian, Christi Craddick and Ryan Sitton—immense credit for being willing to withstand 10 hours and 15 minutes of testimony, with just a few breaks and what seemed like an insufficient lunch period. Their stamina was impressive, as they sat listening to many speakers drone on for three to five minutes (and frequently longer) while citing various statistics and delving down into all sorts of aspects of procedural, contractual and legal minutiae. But the commissioners bent over backwards to be fair, and to ask intelligent questions of everyone.

The media’s herd view. If you read stories on the RRC meeting from most newswires or other media, they all have a rather homogenous flavor. Their stories play up the fact that the companies testifying against prorationing were concerned about protecting the free market. It’s as if these firms were acting as statesmen-like protectors of free-market economics, without any mention of potential ulterior motives (more on that, further down in the text). And, there was no mention of the fact that there is no true free market in oil, not when state actors like Saudi Arabia and Russia can impact the market so substantially through deliberate moves.

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