(August 31, 2020)
Environmentalists have long criticized oil and gas companies in Texas for flaring, the practice of burning off excess methane gas produced by oil and gas extraction. But despite numerous pledges by regulators and industry players to clean up their act, a recent survey by the Environmental Defense Fund suggests the problem is worsening.
Surveys over the Permian Basin conducted by a helicopter fitted with an infrared camera revealed that more than one in ten flares were either malfunctioning, failing to burn all of the methane, or were completely turned off. As a result, large quantities of uncombusted gas are vented into the atmosphere, a process that is even more damaging to the environment than flaring.
“Malfunctioning and unlit flares are a longstanding problem for the industry and one of the largest sources of methane emissions in the Permian,” explains David Lyon, a scientist with EDF. “The fact that we have not seen any improvement in flare performance over three separate surveys tells us that industry and regulators need to get much more serious about the problem. The best solution is to eliminate routine flaring altogether.”
The EDF conducted its surveys in February, May and June. In addition to revealing that a large number of gas flares do not function properly, the study also showed that overall flaring in the Permian is rising sharply. Although it declined rapidly between February and May due to the oil price crash and economic slowdown associated with COVID-19, levels rebounded in June by 50 percent compared to the previous month.