Documents Tell the Story: Texas Oil Industry Inspectors Fired for Enforcing the Rules

The dismissals of two Railroad Commission inspectors help tell the story of oil and gas regulation in Texas.

Former Railroad Commission inspector Fred Wright, who is suing the agency for a wrongful termination, said he was asked to bend the rules to allow wells to begin operating before they met all the regulatory standards for safety. This is a document related to the case.

Two former oil and gas inspectors for the Texas Railroad Commission, Fred Wright and Morris Kocurek, were fired within months of each other in 2013.

They say they were fired because they demanded that the oil and gas industry strictly abide by state regulations designed to protect the public and the environment. The inspectors' responsibilities included keeping old and new wells safe and making sure the industry's often-toxic waste didn't become a hazard. 

Below are links to some of the hundreds of pages of commission records that InsideClimate News used to document the praise, promotions, censure and exile that marked the men's careers. The documents were obtained by filing requests under the Texas Public Information Act.

RELATED ARTICLE: Texas Oil and Gas Regulators Say They Tried to Enforce Rules, Lost Jobs

Document 1: Proper construction of oil and gas wells is one of the most critical aspects of protecting the public health, safety and the environment. Former Railroad Commission inspector Fred Wright said he was asked to bend the rules to allow wells to begin operating before they met all the regulatory standards for safety.

"This complaint was about my being asked to approve completion reports certifying that oil and gas operators had complied with certain rules when they had not." 

 

Document 2: Former Railroad Commission inspector Fred Wright gained a reputation as a stickler for the rules. His insistence that oil and gas developers strictly adhere to regulations governing safe construction of wells often drew the industry's ire.

"Dealing with Mr. Wright becomes an effort in futility in that he will not give any operator the benefit of the doubt and considers himself right in all cases."

 

Document 3: Railroad Commission officials expect the agency's inspectors to uphold the highest standards of integrity when performing their jobs and say they did not direct Fred Wright to cheat on behalf of the industry. 

"The Commission did not instruct or ask Mr. Wright to approve inaccurate wellbore completion reports." 

 

Document 4: Employee evaluations show that former Railroad Commission inspector Fred Wright was consistently told he met the requirements for performing his job. Those reports praised his understanding of the rules governing oil and gas wells, yet suggested he needed to be more flexible in granting exceptions.   

"Excellent knowledge of RRC Rules, Regulations, and Policies as written." 

"As noted above Mr. Wright has a good knowledge of RRC Rules, Regulations and Policies as written, but he need to have a better understanding that there can be and are exceptions to many of them if the circumstances seem to meet the required objective."

 

Document 5: Former Railroad Commission inspector Morris Kocurek said his attempts to force the cleanup of oil and waste facilities were often stymied by commission officials who were slow to respond to his reports. Kocurek said he'd write report after report documenting violations but nothing would be done to correct the problems.

"First inspection written on 03-15-2012 There has been no visible progress of oil removal from pit surface..." 

 

Document 6: When former Railroad Commission Inspector Morris Kocurek was fired, he said he was told only that he was being dismissed for cause, a blanket term that allows a employee to be dismissed for almost any reason. But the commission had its reasons and kept them secret from Wright without allowing him to dispute the allegations.

"This counseling form was not given to Mr. Kocurek but is being placed in his file."

 

 

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