Railroad Commission Today Adopts Amendments to Oil & Gas Well Construction Rules


AUSTIN-- The Railroad Commission today adopted amendments to the Commission’s well construction requirements rule (Statewide Rule 13) that will clarify current oil and gas well construction requirements related to casing, cementing, drilling, well control and completions.

Commission Chairman Barry Smitherman said, “I want to congratulate Commission staff on their hard work and on involving all the stakeholders to update our well construction rules. This latest rulemaking effort by the Commission also illustrates the importance of allowing state regulators, not the federal government, to regulate our booming oil and gas industry.”

Commissioner David Porter said, “Texas is blessed with an abundance of natural resources, including several prolific shale plays that will continue to fuel an unprecedented growth of exploration and production. It is vital that as the state’s top energy regulator, we update and enhance our rules to continue our agency’s proud legacy of environmental protection and public safety.”

Commissioner Christi Craddick said, “These new rule amendments will provide our oil and gas operators with consistent and clear regulations. They also enhance the Railroad Commission’s ongoing effectiveness in overseeing the responsible development of our domestic energy resources, which has resulted in one of this nation’s greatest economic success stories.”

The new amendments to the Commission’s Statewide Rule 13 (Casing, Cementing, Drilling, Well Control and Completion Requirements) include:

  • Updates and more clearly outlined well construction requirements, including:
    • For wells undergoing hydraulic fracturing treatments, operators are required to pressure test well casings (steel pipes that make up a well) to the maximum pressure expected during the fracture treatment and to notify the Commission of a failed test. Also during hydraulic fracturing, operators are required to monitor the annular space between the well’s casings for pressure changes (which could indicate a leak in casing) and suspend hydraulic fracturing operations if the annuli monitoring indicates a potential down hole casing leak;
    • Requires operators to verify the mechanical integrity of surface casing and intermediate casing for wells in which the drilling time for the next casing string (either the intermediate casing string or the production casing string) exceed 360 hours. This will ensure that the drilling (the rotation motion of the drill string) inside the surface casing did not damage surface casing integrity or other intermediate casing strings;
    • Requires operators to isolate (place cement behind casing) across and above all formations that have a permit for an injection or disposal well within one-quarter mile of a proposed well;
    • Requires Commission approval before setting surface casing to a depth greater than 3,500 feet;
    • Establishes additional testing and monitoring requirements for “minimum separation wells” where the vertical distance between the base of usable quality water and the top of a formation to undergo hydraulic fracturing treatment is less than 1,000 vertical feet. This provision involves a limited number of vertical wells that are vertically hydraulically fractured in a handful of shallow fields, which are found in the Abilene, Midland, San Antonio and Wichita Falls areas and does not involve horizontally completed and hydraulically fractured wells in the major plays in the Barnett Shale, Eagle Ford Shale and Permian Basin;
    • Requires operators to use air, fresh water or fresh water-based drilling mud until surface casing is set and cemented in a well to protect usable quality groundwater;
    • Operators are required to pump sufficient cement to isolate and control annular gas migration and isolate potential flow zones and zones with corrosive formation fluids;
    • Updates references to cement quality, cementing, well equipment, well casing centralizers and well control, and sets minimum cement sheath thickness of at least 0.75 inches around the surface casing (steel pipe) and a minimum cement sheath thickness of 0.50 inches around subsequent casing strings; and
    • Consolidates and updates requirements for well control and blowout preventers, and distinguishes between the use of well control equipment on inland, bay and offshore wells. Main rule amendments involve the makeup of blowout prevention systems.
  • Implements Article 2 of House Bill 2694 to reflect the transfer of the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality’s Surface Casing Section to the Railroad Commission, where it is now called the Groundwater Advisory Unit. As usable quality groundwater depth varies statewide, this unit establishes the depth of surface casing required for each well to protect groundwater.

Adoption of the rule amendments demonstrates the Commission’s continuing effort to refine and advance state regulation. Other examples of the Commission’s proactive approach to implementing best practices include amendments to water recycling rules and adoption of the Hydraulic Fracturing Fluid rule. The Commission is committed to working with all stakeholders to develop a comprehensive suite of rules as technology and industry practices continue to evolve.

The new rule amendments take effect on Jan. 1, 2014 and apply to any wells drilled on or after Jan. 1, 2014.

About the Railroad Commission

Established in 1891, the Railroad Commission of Texas is the oldest regulatory agency in the state. The Commission has a long and proud history of service to both Texas and to the nation, including more than 90 years regulating the oil and gas industry. Additionally, the Commission promotes research and education on the use of alternative fuels and has jurisdiction over gas utility, surface mining and pipeline industries. Our mission is to serve Texas by our stewardship of natural resources and the environment, our concern for personal and community safety, and our support of enhanced development and economic vitality for the benefit of Texans. To learn more, please visit http://www.rrc.texas.gov/