Billions of cubic feet of natural gas burn each year in the U.S. oil and gas fields, depleting fossil fuels and releasing greenhouse gases without generating energy. In Texas alone, state regulators have allowed companies to burn more than a million cubic feet of gas per day since 2019. Combined, it will be enough natural gas to meet the annual gas needs of 15 million homes.
Fossil fuel companies prefer to burn natural gas instead of holding and selling it for various safety and economic reasons. Gas fields often have gas rigidity and inadequate pipeline capacity for transport to refineries and markets. The solution for logistics is to burn too much natural gas – primarily methane, a powerful planet’s pollution – with the permission of government regulators.
The Texas Railways Commission, or ARC, is a state agency that is tasked with overseeing the oil and gas industry and regulating companies’ odors. When fossil fuel companies want to burn, they have to ask permission from the agency. But at Earthworks, a new analysis of a local nonprofit organization has found compelling evidence that is not often disturbed. In fact, more than two-thirds of the 227 fires observed in the first three months of 2020 are not allowed in the state, and the group says it could leave the RRC in the dark.
“They don’t know much about the flash in Texas,” said non-profit spokesman Allan Septoff. There is a lot of information in the state on which they base their policy decisions.
When burning natural gas, methane is converted into carbon dioxide, which is released into the atmosphere. But flames often do not burn completely or do not burn, which causes methane to be released directly into the air – a more powerful contributor to climate change. The Earthquake Report is on and counts unburned flames and adds to the growing body of evidence that methane emissions from the oil and gas fields are not being seriously considered. It is the first analysis to determine the potential for illegal expansion in the Texas oil fields.
“I’m not particularly surprised,” said Tim Doti, a former employee of the Texas Environmental Protection Agency (TCEQ). He was appointed as the Executive Division Investigator for the Regulatory Agency. By the time he retires by 2018, he said, it is common knowledge that there will be “uncontrolled emissions” in the oil sector. (When licenses are issued by the RRC, TCEQ is responsible for controlling air quality in the state and has authority over light emission.)
“The system is really built on a system of honor,” he said. They hope that the actual field activities reflect the paperwork.
Methane has a particularly strong contribution to climate change. Last week, the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (ICC) reported that methane was the second largest source of global warming after carbon dioxide. Gas is more powerful than carbon dioxide, and is a significant source of oil and gas industry. When inappropriate gas is ignited, methane emissions are treated with black carbon, as well as toxic volatile organic compounds, such as gasoline, and flames are a more urgent public health issue in addition to long-term weather hazards.
For Earthworks field analyst Jack McDonald relied primarily on two databases to identify unauthorized flames in Texas. The first was presented by the Environmental Fund, a local nonprofit, which is investigating methane emissions from oil fields, and companies often estimate how much gas is released into the atmosphere. The data set was recorded by the Environmental Fund in January, March and June 2020 hosted by helicopters. McDonald then obtained a second approved flame from the RRC at the request of public records. He actually compared the flame observed during the flights to the list of flares allowed in the state.
The findings were solid. In at least 69 percent of cases, McDonald’s could not get permission for the flames. Eighty percent of the flame, which was twice inspected by Environmental Fund helicopters, was found to be unauthorized in both cases. In three cases where flames were studied three times, more than half of them were not allowed. Among the worst offenders are companies that have pledged to reduce their emissions, according to the report. According to MacDonald, none of the seven observed fires linked to Sheol operations were allowed. In the case of Exxon, only two out of eight flames are allowed.
“None of these flames can be legitimate,” said McDonald. The agency’s release and misinformation “may not be accurate because the operators do not allow the information,” he said.
According to RRC spokesman Andrew Kessie, the identified landfills may be illegal. State law allows emergency lightning for up to 24 hours within the first 10 days after the well is drilled without a requirement to obtain a permit or notify the state.
“Short-term observations and a lack of clear distinction do not necessarily mean that the skid is illegal,” he said.
Earthworks field analyst McDonald said none of the flames were connected to recently completed wells, and that operators were abusing their freedom for emergencies rather than engaging in long-term unauthorized smelling activities.
A spokesman for both ExxonMobil and Shell denied that people were driving without permission. ExxonMobil spokeswoman Julie King said the report was “inaccurate and deliberately misleading.” – Exhaustion rate by 2025 – less than 0.2 percent by 2025. Both King and Gunnell indicate that all interest activities do not require a license. “Driving activities do not distinguish between exposing or exposing events that do or do not require [permits]”Said Gunel.
The Land Report calls for better enforcement of RRR laws by hiring more inspectors, increasing the number of inspections, increasing penalties for violations and denying permits to repeat offenders. If the agency fails to comply with state regulations, the Texas Legislature must intervene, McDonald said.
“If the commission does not correct it, the legislature can intervene and correct it,” he said.
“I do not think the Railways Commission believes that it is a good actor to add regulation to oil and gas companies without external repairs.