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Voters Have 2 Very Different Choices For Texas’ Next Oil And Gas Regulator

Republican Jim Wright, left, and Democrat Chrysta Castañeda are both running for Texas Railroad Commission on very different platforms. (The campaign websites of Jim Wright and Chrysta Castañeda)

Voters casting a ballot in Texas have the opportunity to choose the next state oil and gas regulator — and the two candidates in the race would have very different approaches to that role.

Republican Jim Wright and Democrat Chrysta Castañeda are facing off for a seat on the three-member Texas Railroad Commission, which regulates oil, gas and other energy resources in the state. Despite its name, it no longer has any regulatory authority over the rail industry. 

Companies turn to the RRC for approval of new drilling projects and pipelines. The commission also regulates oil and gas waste disposal — like injecting wastewater from hydraulic fracturing back into the earth or burning off excess gas into the atmosphere, a practice known as flaring. 

The state Democratic Party is calling this the most important environmental race in the country, and Castañeda has made finding solutions to flaring central to her campaign. 

The Dallas-based lawyer and engineer won the party's primary runoff in July. If she wins, Castañeda would be the first Democrat elected to the commission in 30 years. 

Republican Jim Wright is a newcomer to politics, but happens to share a name with the late congressman and former House Speaker Jim Wright. Some attributed that coincidence to Wright's  surprising victory against incumbent Ryan Sitton in the GOP primary

Wright is a business owner and runs four companies in the energy industry, including in oilfield waste and recycling. One of his former businesses was the subject of a  legal battle over improper waste disposal, and the Railroad Commission cited it for multiple violations, although Wright has said he sold the company before that. 

He advertises himself as a pro-business conservative that will work with industry and the public,  according to his website.

Commissioners are elected to six-year terms in staggered elections. Wright and Castañeda are vying for Sitton's former seat, and the person elected will join Republicans Christi Craddick and Wayne Christian.

Castañeda has positioned herself as experienced in working with the oil and gas industry, but she's also snagged endorsements from environmental groups like the Sierra Club. Her work as an attorney has been focused on upstream oil and gas litigation,  according to her website.

Campaign finance reports show Wright has raised a little more than $640,000. Donors at the top of the list include individuals from oil and gas companies, as well as political action committees representing the industry. 

Castañeda has raised just over $410,000. Groups associated with the Democratic Party were among her biggest donors, followed by individual donations mostly from lawyers or investors, some with ties to the oil and gas industry.