She woke up long before daybreak, rustling around in their small house in Tenaha, Texas. Each weekday, she carpooled to Center to put in her shift at the Curtis Mathis Air Conditioning plant. Before she left, she turned on the gas heater in his room to take the frigid chill out of the air as he got up for school.
Even as a 15-year-old, Wayne Christian recognized how hard his parents worked. His dad worked at the Post Office. Together, they covered the basics, but his mom never got to sit in the bleachers at his high school games because she always had chores left to be done late into the night.
“If only mom would not have to work,” he negotiated with God. Perhaps in the best deal he ever made, God answered the young man’s prayer.
“My dad got the Enco station and my mom got to quit work,” says Christian.
Their family’s whole economic situation shifted dramatically, giving Christian his first inkling of how the oil and gas industry affects families all over the state.
“Wayne, this is the first time I’ve been able to pay all these bills,” his dad told him after they all began to work at the station together. The future immediately looked brighter. He began to dream of being the first college-educated person in his family. In a few short years he graduated from Stephen F. Austin to the applause of his proud parents. Christian never forgot the deal he made with God.
Recently elected to serve as one of three Texas Railroad Commissioners, Christian came to the job with a healthy respect for the hard-working people in the oil business. In fact, his chief concern is always those employed as oil workers across the state.
“That’s where my heart is. I want moms to put food on the table; people to have jobs. The American middle class has been hit hard,” he says, “One-third of jobs in Texas are directly or indirectly associated with oil, gas, or coal.”
He points out Panola College as an example of what a little oil industry magic can do. In both Carthage and Center, Panola College offers a two-year degree in Petroleum Technology. According to Christian, 92% of the 200 graduates are employed in the industry, averaging $80,000 a year in salaries. The program is so successful folks are commuting from Beaumont five days a week, he adds. Some choose to continue their studies, folding their Associates degree into a Bachelors.
“These are jobs for kids who normally might never have had a chance to go to college,” Christian says. Training the next generation of industry workers must happen now because of the coming growth, he says, predicting a coming boom. He is not shy about enumerating the reasons why we can expect growth.
“European allies want to buy from us, not the Middle East or Russia,” he says, pointing out our ability to supply with consistency. With upbeat conviction, Christian lists items in rhythmic rat-a-tat; the new refinery in Corpus Christi, “the $450 million facility Austin Company is building in the Permian Basin,” the Epic pipeline from west Texas to Corpus, and the three Texas ports along with one in Louisiana that are exporting liquefied gas.
“Mexico is converting their entire electrical grid to natural gas and wants as much as we can send their way,” he announces triumphantly, closing his argument in favor of an imminent oil and gas boom. He laughingly refuses to tie the anticipated boom with his election as Commissioner.
“This sounds like its too dreamy in the first three months since I was elected, but we are just living in a time when we will see an unparalleled boom in Texas oil and gas,” he declares, “Now is the time to start smiling again.”
He spends his days making a case to revamp his agency’s budget. A long-time conservative with stellar credentials he earned while serving in the Texas legislature, he makes a good case for returning the pipeline safety taxes back to the agency which secures them. With a secure budget, the Railroad Commission would be able to keep enough people in the field to keep drilling permits turned quickly, he claims.
“One reason we are world-respected is because we make it as easy as possible for people to risk their fortunes finding oil and gas and coal in Texas,” he explains. “Once they find it, we put boundaries in place to keep citizens safe. That’s the story of why Texas is so great.”
Currently, the RR Commission is paying less than sister agencies for employees throughout the agency, including inspectors. Consequently, experienced inspectors and other employees jump to other agencies. With a background in business, Christian believes ending the pay discrepancy between Texas agencies by budgeting more for RR Commission employees actually saves money in future tax revenue. He claims keeping and increasing the number of inspectors speeds up turn around time at the derrick, cutting drill time costs for investors and exploration companies. More wells pumping translates to more jobs and more dollars for infrastructure, education, and countless programs throughout the state.
“Responsible companies don’t mind inspectors. Big companies want inspectors to quickly approve their drilling so they can get their wells on line,” he adds.
In other good news, getting the RR Commission beyond the latest Sunset process means more investor certainty. Investor confidence is another good reason to look for an imminent boom, he claims, circling back to one of his favorite themes.
“We need to be proud,” says Christian. “People are living longer, starving less, no longer freezing to death in winter, people are living through natural disasters” due to technology and innovations made possible by the work and fuel provided by the oil and gas industry.
Last time he was in Tyler, he struck up a conversation with a lady sitting next to him at a dinner in honor of his visit. As they exchanged stories, they discovered his mom was in the same carpool from Tenaha to the Curtis Mathis plant as her grandmother. When you consider his own energetic approach to life and his faith, it’s not such a long journey from Tenaha, Texas to serving in the state’s capital.
From the young man who prayed his mom would not have to work so hard to becoming a Texas Railroad Commissioner, Christian is proof that God answers prayers.
We want to thank Commissioner Christian for making himself available for this interview. He patiently answered all our questions, even the most intrusive ones. We are grateful for the conservative, business-like approach he brings to public service. Plus, we dig his small-town, down-home perspective.