The Southwestern Historical Quarterly, Volume 84, July 1980 - April, 1981

The Texas Railroad Commission and the
Elimination of the Flaring of Natural Gas,
1930-1949
DAVID F. PRINDLE*
FROM THE 1930S TO THE 19705, THE RAILROAD COMMISSION OF TEXAS
was one of the most important regulatory bodies in the United
States. Its decisions determined how many oil and gas wells could be
drilled, where they might be located, and the quantity of petroleum
that they might produce. By regulating the drilling, operation, and
plugging of wells, and the transportation and storage of both oil and
gas, it protected the ecological environment of Texas and the safety
and health of the state's citizens. By suppressing ("prorating") the rate
of production of the state's oil, it placed a floor under the price of that
commodity. Because Texas looms so large in the nation's domestic
petroleum picture, the Railroad Commission's control over the oil and
gas industry within the state's boundaries had a decisive effect on that
industry in the rest of the country, and, as a consequence, on the supply
and price of petroleum to consumers in every other state.'
One of the most animated and important episodes in the history of
the Commission involved its successful attempt, in the i93os and 1940s,
to prevent the destruction of the state's natural gas reserves. An ac-
count of this episode illustrates both the historical importance of the
Commission, and the interaction of technology, economics, and politics
in twentieth-century Texas history.
From the earliest days of oil production, the industry had problems
with natural gas. The difficulties all rested, at bottom, on a fact that
seems incredible to our gas-hungry age: the stuff was practically worth-
*David F. Prindle is an assistant professor of government at the University of Texas
at Austin.
1Erich W. Zimmermann, Conservation in the Production of Petroleum: A Study in In-
dustrial Control (New Haven, 1957), 142-159; John M. Blair, The Control of Oil (New
York, 1976), 159-169; James P. Hart, "Oil, the Courts, and the Railroad Commission,"
Southwestern Historical Quarterly, XLIV (Jan., 1941), 314-315; Morris A. Adelman,
"Efficiency of Resource Use in Crude Petroleum," Southern Economic Journal, XXXI
(Oct., 1964), 10o3-o9; J. C. Rothwell, Jr., "The Conservation Program of the Railroad
Commission and the Structure of Crude Oil Prices in Texas" (Ph.D. diss., University of
Texas, 1958).

Texas State Historical Association. The Southwestern Historical Quarterly, Volume 84, July 1980 - April, 1981. Austin, Texas. The Portal to Texas History. http://texashistory.unt.edu/ark:/67531/metapth101225/. Accessed October 25, 2014.