Railroad Commission mitigates excessive lights at oil and gas production sites

Lights at the Triple Crown gas plant in Northwestern Culberson County

Photo by McDonald Observatory

By Lisa Morton

William Wren, M. Ed., Special Assistant to the Superintendent at the University of Texas at Austin McDonald Observatory is concerned that some of the flood lights at the Roadrunner Pipeline contractor yard in Van Horn are poorly aimed off property shining lots of lighting into the sky.  “It appears little thought is being given to where they want the light to go,” said Wren.   “It is an easy fix for turning bad lights into good lights without expense, just a bucket truck and the labor” Wren included.

The Railroad Commission of Texas recently sent a “Notice to Operators” regarding lighting near McDonald Observatory.  The Railroad Commission of Texas today issued a Notice to Operators to remind oil and gas operators of the need to minimize lighting impacts from oil and gas activities in the vicinity of the University of Texas’ McDonald Observatory near Fort Davis.

The Notice follows collaboration between Commission staff, representatives of the McDonald Observatory, and the oil and gas industry related to lighting practices at oil and gas production sites. The growth of oil and gas drilling and production in the Permian Basin has generated light reflecting off the sky raising concerns by the McDonald Observatory about nighttime light pollution.

Industry operators active in the seven county regions have worked with the McDonald Observatory to adopt new lighting practices to help prevent ambient lighting from interfering with the highly sensitive and important scientific study conducted at the McDonald Observatory. By issuing the Notice to Operators the Railroad Commission is highlighting the importance of mitigating excessive light while improving visibility at the work site.  Notice can be viewed at http://www.rrc.texas.gov/all-news/021716a/.

Spokesperson for Roadrunner Pipeline, Stephanie Higgins with ONEOK Communications provided The Advocate with this comment.  “In recent weeks, our construction contractors have modified the angles of the light fixtures located at this pipe yard to minimize the effects of the lighting in this area. We continue to work with our contractor to explore additional alternatives that may also help reduce light pollution near the McDonald Observatory.”

A comment was received late Wednesday afternoon from Lisa Dillinger, of Grenado Communications Group. She said, “Yes, our crews are preparing for construction on the Comanche Trail Pipeline.”

“Mainline construction will be only scheduled during daylight hours in order to protect the beautiful darks skies of the Big Bend. The only lighting planned with be located at the originating Waha facility and at the terminus measurement station near the Texas-Mexico border, fitted only with dark skies-friendly fixtures. To do this, we are working with engineers from the McDonald Observatory to develop best lighting practices.” Said Dillinger

A better understanding and appreciation of viewing at the Observatory can be realized by visiting the site. From Fort Davis, take Hwy 118 north for 16 miles to Mt. Locke.  Address is3640 Dark Sky Drive, McDonald Observatory and the Visitors Center phone number is 432-426-3640.


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