Sarah Stogner told me that they call it Humpjack.
We are talking over the phone just a few days before Stogner is set to face off against a powerful incumbent in a runoff election for one of the most important oil and gas regulatory bodies in the world. Stogner wore nothing but star-shaped pasties while straddling a pumpjack in the middle of a Texas field in a campaign ad released in February.
The San Antonio Express-News, which endorsed Stogner, called the video "disgraceful" and re-endorsed her.
Stogner said that he didn't do it sooner. Vote for anyone but Wayne Christian.
Stogner will face Christian in a David-and-Goliath level election on May 24. Stogner's election could represent a real opportunity to change a key regulatory body and get a damaging industry to heel, and help curb some of its catastrophic emissions in the process.
Railroad Commission elections aren't usually spicy affairs. It's a poorly-understood position, thanks in part to its confusing name, that doesn't generate a lot of voter turnout. The RRC, which was founded in the late 1800s and has nothing to do with trains, is in charge of regulating emissions and pollution from the oil and gas industry in Texas. The RRC is one of the most important oil and gas regulatory bodies in the country because of the amount of crude oil and natural gas produced in Texas.
For all its power, the RRC is also incredibly opaque and has worrying ties to the industry it is supposed to be keeping tabs on. Unlike regulatory bodies in other states, commissioners are allowed to maintain financial relationships with fossil fuel companies, and commissioner Christi Craddick has extensive ties to natural gas producers. The RRC has shot down attempts to change its name, which some suspect is motivated by a drive to keep its purpose secret. Encouraging Texans to vote on the party line and not much else has largely worked for the RRC: no Democrat has sat on the Commission since 1994. The RRC has a history of allowing oil and gas companies to get away with murder and doing little to regulate the industry they have been tasked with policing. The US is the third largest emitter of methane in the world thanks to emissions from an industry that is allowed to do what it wants.
Stogner is still an industry booster after more than a decade of working as an oil and gas lawyer. One of Stogner's core campaign positions is to enforce the laws that are on the books, something that could help curb the harmful effects of the industry on the environment. She refused to accept campaign money from the industry.
She told me that they are bought and paid for by the industry. We know that we are indispensable, but we have done a poor job explaining to people why they need us. We are finally at this point where people are saying, "You are playing with our finances, you are playing with national security, and that shouldn't be politicized." Hopefully, we can turn around politics and hire subject matter experts to be public servants for a minute, go into office, and live their lives.
Christian is almost cartoonishly bad at regulating the industry, which is helpful to Stogner. One of the most outspoken proponents of the oil and gas industry in the country currently serving in elected office is Christian, who has held the Commissioner position since 2016 and served as the RRC's Chairman since 2019. Christian, a career politician who served in the Texas House for more than 15 years, has taken every opportunity to act as a spokesman for the oil and gas industry. The idea that the sun will have gotten so hot or the seas risen so much that large swaths of earth become uninhabitable is laughable.
After last February's winter storm caused statewide blackouts for a week and killed hundreds, voters seem to be paying more attention to the RRC. Christian, a Republican, made renewable energy a scapegoat, but the RRC's lack of regulations for the natural gas industry played a big role in how the disaster played out. Christian's other PR problems include how he accepted a $100,000 campaign donation from a company in his hometown of Center, Texas, just days after he and another commissioner went against their staff's recommendations. Increasing environmental problems from old abandoned wells and the RRC's lack of regulation of clean up have also been criticized. In early January, an abandoned and poorly-maintained well began to shoot salt water a hundred feet into the sky, painting a dramatic picture of what the industry can do to the land.
The wells that got Stogner into this race were the first ones. She lived in the poolhouse of the ranch owner in West Texas who has been outspoken about the harms abandoned oil wells have done to her property. Stogner began making TikToks about the problems abandoned wells can cause after Watts hired her as her lawyer.
She said that she was getting more results by posting TikTok videos than by calling regulators. She said running for the RRC was a way to continue her campaign and get people to pay attention.
She said that she didn't want to win.
She became more determined to beat Christian as she grew frustrated with her opponents. The video was filmed as a joke on Watts's property a few months before, but was released because of a desire to get people to watch it.
She said that she needed a Superbowl ad after having a couple beers. I don't want anything on the table. This is the kind of thing to make people talk if we don't make it to a runoff.
Christian's current strategy against Stogner seems to be to talk about anything other than regulating the oil and gas industry. Stogner says he has printed out to voters a graphic that compares him to Christian, and that he only mentions energy issues once. Stogner and Christian are compared on a number of issues, including abortion, gun rights, critical race theory, sexual content in schools, and police. Christian has brought abortion into his campaigns before.
Stogner said that she did not scrub her social media before she ran. She said that Christian was not giving the voters enough credit. They need me to regulate oil and gas, they don't give me any feedback on the heartbeat bill.
She has a steep hill to climb to win on Tuesday. She told me that only 3% of voters had turned in early ballots on Friday. Christian has gained the support of several powerful GOP allies, including the Department of Energy Secretary, the former governor of Texas, and the Dancing with the Stars celeb.
She sounds positive about her chances.
She said she was going to take out Christi Craddick in two years.
Stogner was re-endorsed by the San Antonio Express-News in March.