Gas flaring in the Lone Star State remains commonplace and the amount of gas being flared is greater than residential demand. Oil producers say the practice is a necessity due to a lack of pipeline infrastructure and the absence of market value for excess gas. However, critics claim companies are focusing too heavily on boosting short-term profits and clamping down on flaring could help reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
The issue is receiving more attention because flaring is on the rise. Driven by the oil and shale gas boom, producers in the Permian Basin, which covers western Texas and New Mexico, increased gas flaring by 85 percent in 2018. According to research by Rystad Energy, the largest producers in the basin flared 5.1 percent of gross gas production in the fourth quarter of 2018 and first quarter of 2019. In some counties, however, the rate of flaring is as high as 25 percent. Estimates for 2019 suggest that Texas gas flaring will rise by 25 percent compared to 2018.
One of the main causes of flaring is the gas that is produced as a byproduct of oil drilling. The oil boom has encouraged drillers to massively expand production, bringing more gas and oil to the surface. According to industry officials, the only alternative to gas flaring would be shutting down oil wells, which would hike production costs and force some drillers to stop operating altogether.
Industry advocates point to several major pipeline projects scheduled to come online over the next year, which they argue will ease the problem.
Wayne Christian, chairman of the Texas Rail Road Commission (RRC), which is responsible for regulating the oil and gas sector, wrote in a recent opinion piece, “With the goal of flaring less gas, private companies are building thousands of miles of new pipelines. The impact can already be seen. The rate of flaring in Texas is stable even as oil production dramatically increases. In March 2014, about 3.5 percent of excess gas was flared. In March 2019, just 3.1 percent was flared, even as production rose.”