Texas Railroad Commission Chairman Wayne Christian held a 47.1% lead in the GOP election with 88% of the votes counted, according to the Associated Press. That was short of the simple majority required to avoid a May run-off with one of the two top challengers: oil and natural gas lawyer Sarah Stogner and consultant Tom Slocum, who were neck and neck as of early Wednesday.
The winner of the runoff contest will take on Democrat Luke Warford as well as Green and Libertarian candidates in the November general election. In the GOP race, a candidate who died in a February car accident — Marvin “Sarge” Summers — was running in fourth place with almost 12% of the votes, the AP figures showed.
The commission has regulated oil and gas exploration and production in the second-largest U.S. state for more than a century, at times wielding considerable power over global energy markets through its ability to limit the flow of crude in response to price swings or geopolitical disruptions. As recently as early 2020 the panel considered — and ultimately rejected — rationing output after a worldwide glut and pandemic-driven demand crash triggered an unprecedented collapse in the price of oil.
Christian, who holds the commission’s rotating chairmanship this year, was a member when the February 2021 freeze caused a catastrophic failure of the state’s gas and power networks. Texas pumps 43% of the nation’s crude oil and more than one-fourth of its natural gas, Energy Department figures showed. The agency was the template used by OPEC’s founding nations upon the group’s creation in 1960.
Despite its title, the agency hasn’t played a role in the state’s railroad industry for decades. Christian’s fellow panel members, both Republicans, weren’t up for re-election.