TRC runoff gets rough and tumble

Christian, Stogner take gloves off in GOP Railroad Commission runoff

One of the most entertaining races in Texas this spring is for one of the more obscure offices, but it is probably a position that everyone in the Permian Basin would agree is very important.

Texas Railroad Commission Chairman Wayne Christian is running a traditional race in his May 24 Republican Primary runoff against oil and gas attorney Sarah Stogner, whose candidacy is anything but conventional.

The three-member Railroad Commission regulates oil and natural gas production and Christian and Stogner are a study in political and personal contrasts. The winner will face Democrat Luke Warford in the Nov. 8 general election.

Stogner, 37, who practices law in Midland, Monahans and Houston, had gained notoriety by putting a semi-nude video on social media in which she was riding a pumpjack and she said in a phone interview that that was her only means of competing against the much better-financed Christian, who served in the state legislature from 1997-2013. “It showed that I am creative and I don’t need the money,” she said.

Christian, who responded to questions via email, said the race is simple.

“The issues I hear about time and again from voters on the campaign trail are about fighting back against Biden’s overreach, energy independence and its impact on national security and ensuring that Texas prioritizes investment in reliable forms of energy to prevent blackouts,” Christian said in a written response to questions from the Odessa American.

“Do Texans want a conservative businessman with a proven record of fighting against frivolous regulations or do they want a liberal lawyer who has contributed money to (Democratic gubernatorial nominee) Beto O’Rourke and advocated for increased regulations ‘to be more like Colorado and New Mexico?’”

Christian, a 71-year-old former state representative who owns a financial consulting firm in his East Texas hometown of Center, was asked about his December 2020 acceptance of $100,000 from a company in Center called the High Roller Group three days after he voted with the majority in a 2-1 TRC vote to approve the HRG’s proposed nine-story-tall oilfield waste repository 20 miles north of Midland. Opposed before the vote by a TRC trial examiner who cited the proximity of the Ogallala Aquifer, the plan was subsequently contested in lawsuits filed by nearby property owners who claimed it could pollute the underground water.

“As for the contribution, my job is to ensure the public is protected from bad actors and that consumers have access to cheap and reliable energy,” Christian said in an email. “I believe all regulations should be consistent, predictable and based on sound science. Campaigns cost money to run, but I have never allowed a political contribution to influence my decisions in elected office.

“I have followed and continue to abide by all Texas Ethics Commission rules regarding when I can accept contributions and I have in full transparency reported every contribution I have received,” he said. “I have no personal financial ties to the oil and gas industry.

“My general counsel advised me to approve the permit with the requirement that the company use a geosynthetic clay liner to protect the environment to remain consistent with other similar permits recently granted by the commission. The GCL will act in the same manner as a naturally occurring clay liner and will prevent pollution of groundwater.”

Christian is seeking a second six-year term in the $141,000-a-year office.

In the March 1 GOP Primary, he got 750,542 votes or 47 percent to Stogner’s 241,390 or 15 percent, Tom Slocum Jr.’s 228,390, Marvin Summers’ 189,765 and Dawayne Tipton’s 182,874 after Summers had died in a Feb. 8 traffic accident north of Midland.

“Wayne is a better person than I am if $100,000 doesn’t sway his judgment,” Stogner said. “I’m not accepting contributions because I don’t want to owe anybody anything. I just want to get in there, fix it and get back to my life and I hope we will have other people who want to participate in politics as an act of public service and not as a career path.”

Asked why she would be a better commissioner than Christian, who serves with Christi Craddick of Midland and Jim Wright of Orange Grove in South Texas, Stogner said, “Because I don’t want to be there.

“I’m qualified and I have the intellectual honesty and integrity to actually get in there and do what’s needed, which is to enforce the regulations that are on the books. Wayne doesn’t address issues like oilfield earthquakes except to say, as he just did at a forum we had at the Midland Country Club, ‘Only God can stop earthquakes.’

“The Railroad Commission is a captive agency of crony capitalism,” she said. “They refused to take accountability for the freeze (Winter Storm Uri in February 2021) and blamed all the outages on renewables (wind and solar power) I am a lifelong conservative Republican. I believe in limited small government, fiscal responsibility and the free market and I want to get the bureaucrats out of the way so the experts can address the real issues.”

Stogner said she would not have any conflicts of interest because she would recuse herself if any of her clients came before the commission.