Oil companies warned about false Railroad Commission inspectors

Authorities and industry groups are warning oil companies warned about people falsely claiming to be inspectors with the Railroad Commission of Texas, the state agency that regulates the oil and natural gas industry.

The Railroad Commission, the Texas Oil & Gas Association and the Texas Independent Producers & Royalty Owners Association have issued warnings to oil companies and landowers this week following a pair of incidents in West Texas involving people claiming to be inspectors.

A motive was not clear but TIPRO reported in one case that a person claiming to be an inspector told an oil company operating in the Permian Basin to immediate shutdown operations until further notice. In the other case, a surveyor who did not have permission to be on a property told a landowner that he was an inspector.

"Nefarious activity in the oil patch is on the rise, including an increase in oil and equipment theft," TIPRO President Ed Lonanecker said. "All operators should be on alert of suspicious activity and stay in close communication with district offices to verify agency activity and for coordination with law enforcement."

Crime: Prosecutors make oil rustling a federal offense

TXOGA warned members about the incidents in a conference call earlier this week. Under state law, impersonating an inspector is a state jail felony punishable from six months to two years in jail and a $10,000 fine.

“We aren’t speculating about who is impersonating an inspector but this is illegal activity and we wanted to make sure our members were aware," TXOGA Communications manager Haley Emerson said.

Fuel Fix: Get daily energy news headlines in your inbox

Railroad Commission officials are reminding landowners and oil companies that inspectors use white vehicles marked with the agency's logo and that have Texas exempt license plates.

Inspectors, the agency reported, also carry Railroad Commission identification cards that can be verified by calling district offices.

More: Read the latest oil and gas news from HoustonChronicle.com

Security in the oil fields remains top of mind with some companies hiring guards at property gates and others installing cameras and other forms of security equipment.

There were 19 incidents involving the theft of nearly 3,300 barrels of oil in 2019, Railroad Commission figures show. Nearly all of those incidents involved thieves targeting unsecured storage tanks next to oil wells.