Wild West for Energy Industry by Houston Chronicle, March 10, 2014

It was pretty easy to tell the difference between the good guys from the bad guys in the mythical Wild West. Heroes wore white cowboy hats, and villains wore black. Maybe life wasn't as simple as Hollywood westerns made it seem. But ask folks about the Wild West of the fracking-boom oil patch, and you'd think John Wayne sat on the Railroad Commission.

"Because of a few bad apples, we need government regulations," one electoral candidate told the Houston Chronicle editorial board, echoing what you can hear from folks across the board. In summary, government doesn't need to burden the oil men in white hats, just the drillers in black hats. We wish it were that simple.

Over the month, Chronicle reporter Lise Olsen has made it clear that our regulatory sheriffs don't know who the bad guys are. The federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration is supposed to keep a list of "the worst of the worst" - the Severe Violator Enforcement Program. That list should be filled with oil companies that routinely rack up deaths and severe injuries. It isn't. In fact, none of Texas' oil and gas companies that have reported multiple fatalities are on the list.

The Wild West was lawless for a reason - justice is hard to come by when towns are in the middle of nowhere. But for the oil industry, isolated locations, such as offshore drilling sites, draw the most scrutiny.

Any injury-related accident at offshore sites, in addition to fires, explosions and spills, draw the eye of the Coast Guard or the Department of the Interior. This stands in stark contrast to onshore drilling, where the federal government has gone more than two decades without implementing safety standards and procedures. And while industry spokesmen like American Petroleum Institute President Jack Gerard say that they have a zero-tolerance policy, the death rate keeps climbing.

Without stringent safety regulations, the oil and gas industry is still living in the Wild West.