(Reuters) – A state district judge in Austin has ordered the Texas Railroad Commission to stop granting exceptions to environmental rules requiring oil and gas companies to cap unplugged wells and clean up waste pits, advocacy group Public Citizen and the commission said on Thursday.
“The Commission does not agree with the Court’s order, and has filed a notice of appeal with the Third Court of Appeals,” Andrew Keese, spokesperson for the Railroad Commission of Texas, said in a statement to Reuters.
Public Citizen and two ranchers sued the Railroad Commission in July for unlawfully suspending the rules.
The group said Judge Jan Soifer ruled the Railroad Commission gave “insufficient notice to the public that the (commission) would adopt orders that grant exceptions or provide the means to grant exceptions for a year or more without giving notice of the rules at issue.”
The Railroad Commission, which regulates the state’s oil and gas industry, has used the exceptions to help oil and gas companies during the COVID-19 pandemic, according to Public Citizen.
According to Public Citizen, Railroad Commission records show there are at least 6,208 abandoned oil and gas wells in Texas, 1,606 of which have been inactive for 20 years or more. The average cleanup cost for one well in 2020 was $20,000, the Washington-based group said.