Sarah Stogner has covered 25,000 miles on her Ford Expedition since January. Meanwhile, the 37-year-old ran an unconventional campaign as a Republican nominee for the Texas Railroad Commission – an office which, the oil and gas lawyer is quick to point out, has nothing to do with the railroads and everything to do with regulating the industry in which she made a career.
Stogner embarked on a crowded race for a seat on the three-member commission in January, one of many challengers to incumbent Wayne Christian, a Grammy-nominated gospel singer and former state representative accused of corruption. She turned down donations from the oil and gas industry, and her campaign got a boost when she got her only backing from the newspapers, from San Antonio Express-News. Stogner lost that endorsement, however, after posting a video to the social media accounts she uses a lot – a video that shows her in the oil patch wearing nothing but underwear, pasties, boots and a hat (along with a few well-placed filters keeping her from an R rating), stating that her “other strengths” would level the playing field between her and her well-funded competitors. “Please tell me how I am supposed to get media attention so I can discuss these important issues,” she wrote on LinkedIn after the article. brought back his approval. “I tried. For years. And guess what finally worked? Five seconds of me scantily clad on a pump jack.
Despite the lost approval, the unorthodox strategy to get his name in the headlines seemed to pay off: two weeks after uploading the video, Christian failed to reach the 50% threshold to avoid a second round — and it was Stogner, who received support from 15.2 percent of the GOP primary votes, who narrowly took second place.
Stogner’s thesis was that the work of the Railroad Commission, starting with its misleading name, is difficult for voters to understand, making it difficult for them to grasp what is at stake in a campaign. Her solution was to find something to push her into the conversation. The voters agreed with her, it seems, which means she deserved the opportunity to discuss these important issues. Texas monthly caught up with Stogner as she drove a few hundred more miles on her car en route to a candidate forum in Jewett (about two hours north of Houston), to get her perspective on regulations, grid reliability Texas Electric and whether Bitcoin mining can help control pollution caused by gas flaring.
This interview has been lightly edited for length and clarity.
Texas Monthly: How often should you start your presentation to voters by explaining what the Board of Railway Commissioners actually does?
Sarah Stoner: On TikTok, if you read the comments, people say, “Oh, I have this railroad near my house,” and I’m like, “Yeah, that has nothing to do with railroads. At political events I go to, most of these people know this, because they are politically involved. And then obviously when I go to oil and gas events, they all know it because they face it. But if I’m at the grocery line or in a restaurant or something like that, I’d say—and that’s a completely made up number—but I’d say eighty percent of people in nature don’t have any idea of what the commission does.
TM: How do you convince them that this is a race that really affects their lives?
SS: When I have two or three minutes to introduce myself, I tell them the story of being an oil and gas lawyer and moving to a ranch that contaminated groundwater. And it resonates. I try to spread the word, and I talk about the problems. When I’m in Midland, I’m talking about earthquakes. In the cities, it is more difficult. Anyone who drinks well water is afraid that their well water is contaminated. People who use city water take for granted where their water comes from. And so there, I change my speech to say, “When you turn on the tap, you trust that the government is filtering your water, cleaning it and protecting us. And what do you do when they are purchased and paid for? »
TM: Does this message resonate?
SS: With the freeze, everyone experienced power outages. It doesn’t matter where you are in the state. And we wrongly blamed renewables – it wasn’t just wind and solar that screwed up. Everything failed. One of our nuclear power plants has broken down. It was a disaster on all fronts. Everyone must take responsibility.
TM: What can the Texas Railroad Commission do to ensure system reliability in the event of frost, heat waves, or other weather events that threaten a power outage?
SS: We’re adding a thousand new people to Texas every day. There is no energy transition, it is energy expansion, and we need all the energy we can get that is clean, affordable and reliable. And we need century-old decisions on infrastructure, not on the basis of an electoral cycle, as is the case – everything has been politicized. For a long time, you donated pipelines to all the various government entities that regulate them, and they basically dictated their own terms. We must do what is best for everything Texans. And I don’t have all the answers, but hopefully if we start asking the right questions, the subject matter experts will help us understand. But we must eliminate career politicians and bureaucrats so that common and rational political decisions can be made. It shouldn’t be partisan.
TM: There’s a common misconception in Texas, given the number of oil and gas jobs in the state, that what’s good for the industry is good for Texans. How do you push back against that notion when talking to potential voters?
SS: Look, a third of Texas’ economy is based on oil and gas. If we were a self-governing country, Texas would be the third largest oil producing country in the world. But we have to do it the right way. And we can. We have the technology. We have good operators. We shouldn’t use soft water; we should recycle our water and use gray water. We shouldn’t be on fire. We need to improve our pipelines. We need to improve our infrastructure. Regulation must be effective. They were used as a weapon against having to do the right thing – comply with the rule, but not the spirit of the law. And the lack of enforcement means most operators are as afraid of [the regulators] as you and I are from the maid. We need real punishment and then real rewards for good operators.
Let’s see how to get rid of orphan well problem. Let’s not give P-5 [permits and licenses] to people declaring bankruptcy who have blocked wells. Let the good operators find some sort of financially incentivized way to come in and rehabilitate those sinks that are capable of producing, or plugging them, or capturing carbon. There are all kinds of opportunities, if we want to use them. But technology is changing very quickly. You know, I was talking years ago about mining Bitcoin with flare gas, and everyone said I was crazy. And now look where we are.
TM: Where are we?
SS: You can plug in a generator, and instead of burning natural gas [which causes pollution] in situations where there is no take-out capacity, the generator generates electricity which powers Bitcoin miners. You can build facilities so you have something that uses those takeaways that can’t go to the network for whatever reason, and you put it to good use in mining. And then when the grid needs it, you stop and put it on the grid when you can get pipeline capacity, instead of flaring it.
TM: What kind of reaction does a campaign that talks about tougher industry regulation get in a Republican primary?
SS: Most Republicans really resonate with law and order, don’t they? We believe in limited government, but we also believe in rules and respect for rules. That resonates a lot with voters. This does not resonate with bad oil and gas operators who have already bought and paid the incumbent.
TM: You were a lawyer specializing in oil and gas. What is your current relationship with the companies you have represented in the past?
SS: I still represent some of them. Excellent relationship. I am honest about my position that we must enforce the rules fairly. And I will not be able to represent them once in power.
TM: Are there steps you can take to help voters be sure that these relationships will not create conflict or influence how you carry out your responsibilities, if elected?
SS: Continue to be honest and transparent. I’ve never been a regulatory lawyer. My first experience before the Railroad Commission was representing a landowner. I love Texas and I’m running to represent all Texans. I take no campaign money from industry. Industry associations actively support my opponent. That says a lot. My support is more discreet. But I have a lot.
TM: What has being an oil and gas lawyer taught you about the industry you plan to bring with you to the Railroad Commission, if you are a part of it?
SS: My practice was spent advising companies on contracts between them for projects – and then, when things go wrong, because, absolutely, accidents do happen, suing insurance companies that didn’t pay what they owed . It was cheaper to hire lawyers than to just step in and do the right thing. At the end of the day, what I’ve learned, being a lawyer for almost fifteen years, is that it all comes down to money. And what is the cheapest? Where do you get the most bang for your buck?
If it doesn’t look like someone is making a rational decision, the question is: who are [the rule makers] sleep with, or who pays them? That’s it. And once you figure that out, it’s very easy to say, “Oh, that’s why these policies exist.” We just need someone who isn’t here for the long haul, who actually believes that politics is an act of public service. I don’t want to take a pay cut and move to Austin, but I’m willing to do it because I know I’m qualified and it needs to be done, and I want to leave a legacy that I’m proud of, where my daughter is proud that her mother was an oil and gas lawyer. And right now, I’m not proud of some of the things we’re doing. But it’s not too late. I still have hope that we can overthrow it.