My interview with a PhD engineer running for state office

My interview with Mark Miller, Libertarian candidate for Texas Railroad CommissionerMark Miller is a petroleum engineer. He has a PhD from Stanford. He taught at The University of Texas at Austin for 18 years. And he worked in different capacities across the oil and gas industry.

He’s also the Libertarian candidate for Texas Railroad Commissioner.

Why is an oil and gas guy running for Railroad Commissioner? Because the Railroad Commission of Texas has nothing to do with railroads. It regulates oil, gas, and mining across the state. An unfortunate name, right?

As you might imagine, Mr. Miller has much more subject matter expertise than the other candidates. He’s by no means a career politician. He’s an engineer who believes he can make an important contribution in public life.

As a Railroad Commissioner, Mr. Miller would be charged with protecting the relationship between the energy industry and Texas residents. He’s so serious about the position that he wrote a book about it.

I sent Mr. Miller an email requesting a written interview. He kindly accepted. Below are the five questions I asked, along with his answers. I didn’t edit anything.

I share this interview for several reasons:

  1. At a time when a lot of people are whining about politics, Mr. Miller is doing something about it. He’s using his expertise to help the whole community.
  2. Mr. Miller is getting involved in state politics. The national level gets a ton of attention. State government has such a big impact on people’s lives, and it’s strangely overlooked. I’d like to help mitigate that.
  3. Mr. Miller shows another way that scientists and engineers can contribute outside of the laboratory. Some public policy acumen will open a ton of doors for you.

As a reminder, election day is Tuesday, November 8. Please get out and vote, if you haven’t voted early already.

Without further ado, here’s my discussion with Mark Miller. Enjoy.

Jeff Krimmel

You have an extensive background in both academia and industry. What made you consider running for Texas Railroad Commissioner? Is it a result of longstanding interest in politics? Was there a particular event that pushed in you this direction? 

Mark Miller

I’ve always had a huge interest in politics. Until I retired in 2014, I was busy with career and family … the usual. An opportunity arose that year to run for Texas Railroad Commissioner, an oil and gas regulatory agency in Texas (we’re still arguing about the name). My political affiliation is with the Libertarian Party. As an experienced PhD petroleum engineer, I was obviously well-qualified for this important post. That was my first foray into campaigning. We didn’t win that year but had enough success that a group of Libertarians approached me about running again. This year we’ve had a far more active and successful campaign than in 2014, a fact I’m immensely proud of. 

Jeff Krimmel

You have said that you think the Railroad Commission of Texas positions itself too much as an oil and gas industry advocate. What would you say is the mission of the Commission? What changes would you most like to see in the Commission’s approach to regulation?

Mark Miller

As the chief regulator of Texas’ oil and gas industry, it should focus entirely on its regulatory duties and give up its role as industry champion. I do not believe government should promote or champion any particular industry. I have advocated two important other regulatory changes at the Commission: 1) a process of regular sunset review of all regulations, and 2) an increased focus on surface owner rights. The increase we’ve seen in urban drilling in Texas means that this latter focus will be increasingly important in the years ahead. 

Jeff Krimmel

As you know, hydraulic fracturing (i.e. fracking) has captured considerable public attention in the last five years. Fracking has created important economic and job growth, but has also generated various environmental and health concerns. How do you approach this balance? Does our existing regulatory framework lean too much one way or the other?

Mark Miler

The existing regulatory framework is mostly fine, except in a couple of key areas. First is the problem of earthquakes triggered by wastewater injection. Though some states, such as Oklahoma, have recognized this problem and are seeming to adequately deal with it, Texas has been slow to respond. In fairness, the earthquakes we’ve experienced in Texas are far less severe and far less frequent than in Oklahoma. Given the public safety implications, I believe that our Railroad Commission is not pursuing this issue with sufficient vigor. 

Jeff Krimmel

You are running for Texas Railroad Commissioner as a member of the Libertarian party. Why do you chose to affiliate with the Libertarian party, instead of the Republican or Democratic parties? Do you identify with the national Libertarian party? 

Mark Miller

I first registered Libertarian in 1972 and have frequently voted Libertarian since then. I remained a Libertarian first and foremost because the party’s platform is most closely aligned with my political views. But also because I believe that it is extremely important for alternative voices to be present in our political dialog – other than the Democratic and Republican ones. In this particular election cycle, it has become very clear that more voices are needed. Yes, I do identify with the national Libertarian party. My wife and I were both delegates to the party’s national convention this year. 

Jeff Krimmel

Here at STEM to Business, I help scientists and engineers build their business acumen, so they can enjoy more career success. You plan to use your deep technical expertise to make a contribution in government. For scientists and engineers trying to contribute beyond their niche expertise, what advice would you offer?

Mark Miller

It probably matters little whether you extend your expertise into business or government or even non-profit work. The important thing is that engaging in these other realms provides a richness to one’s life. For me it’s a kind of “giving back” for the blessings I’ve had in my life as a technical person. The biggest blessing is that what I love to do provided me and my family with a large and stable income. But engaging outside of one’s professional expertise also puts one in contact with people of vastly different backgrounds and attitudes. It’s a great way to continue to learn and grow as one matures. 

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