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Petroleum Politics and the Texas Railroad Commission

Petroleum Politics and the Texas Railroad Commission

A detailed look at the Railroad Commission and the politics of petroleum in Texas.

January 1981
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240 pages | 6 x 9 |

The single most important domestic source of oil and gas is managed by the Texas Railroad Commission. As a result, the Commission has for decades exerted a profound influence on United States and world energy policy. This influence may even increase with the recent decision to remove price controls on oil and gas. Commission decisions determine where and when oil and gas wells are drilled, how much can be produced from them, and how the products can be transported. Since the 1930s the Commission has heavily influenced both the supply and the price of petroleum in the rest of the country simply because Texas provides such a large proportion of the United States' petroleum.

As might be expected with the management of resources worth billions of dollars, the Railroad Commission has been an arena of intense political maneuvering. David Prindle examines in detail seven policymaking episodes, covering five decades of the Commission's history. He recounts the economic and political cleavages arising from clashes of interest, the efforts of individuals and organizations to exert influence, the motives and methods underlying the policy choices of the Commissioners, and the political and economic consequences of those choices, both for Texas and for the rest of the country.

This detailed look at the Railroad Commission and the politics of petroleum in Texas will be of interest to the general public and all those involved in the oil and gas industry. Scholars and students in the field of policy studies, especially energy policy, will find this book to be an invaluable guide to an important sector of the American petroleum industry.

  • Preface
  • Part 1. Introduction
    • 1. The Railroad Commission of Texas
  • Part 2. Policy
    • 2. Foundations, 1930–1935
    • 3. The Ironies of Regulation, 1935–1950
    • 4. The Balance Wheel, 1950–1965
    • 5. Welcome to the Energy Crisis, 1965–1980
    • 6. Policy and Its Consequences
  • Part 3. Politics
    • 7. Influence
    • 8. Campaigns and Elections
  • Part 4. The Ironies of Politics
    • 9. Lessons
  • Notes
  • Index

David Prindle received his Ph.D. in political science from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in 1977. He is a professor in the Government Department at the University of Texas at Austin.


“A lively book about an obscure state regulatory body that, through an accident of geology and jurisdiction, wields enormous power in determining how oil and gas are produced and sold in this country. Prindle delights in pointing out the cozy relationship between the Texas Railroad Commission and the industries it regulates.... Prindle, who writes with a fine ability to make technical and economic issues interesting, is appalled by the free-market rhetoric so often mouthed by producers in recent years.... “Debate over government regulation takes place in a twilight zone between outright propaganda and cherished myth,” he writes....”
The Washington Monthly