Report: West Texas Oil Boom Gives Rise to Gas Flares

A new report out this week by the Environmental Defense Fund finds the amount of gas lost to intentional releases and burnings — known as venting and flaring, respectively — ranges widely, suggesting a sizable performance gap between the Permian’s top producers.

In the sprawling 75,000 square miles that cover the Permian Basin, an energy resurgence is underway. But it isn’t just the estimated 70 billion barrels of recoverable oil that’s spurring the energy boom. Natural energy is another piece of the West Texas energy renaissance.

But a new report finds that some West Texas producers are venting or flaring their natural gas “instead of investing in gathering and pipeline infrastructure.” Flaring also produces both carbon dioxide and particulate matter pollution.


According to the new report, in 2014 and 2015, the top 15 producers in the Permian Basin were venting and flaring between 3 and 4 percent of their total natural gas production.

That reflects an average of more than 80 billion cubic feet in total volume during the two year span.

According to the Texas Railroad Commission, the state agency that oversees oil and gas regulation, out of the total amount of gas reported to the group, less than 1 percent is flared or vented. However, this number — according to the San Antonio Express-News — includes “not just oil wells, but natural gas wells where flaring is rare because it’s the targeted hydrocarbon.”

In areas like West Texas, where oil and gas activity occurs regularly, flaring may happen because existing pipelines have reached their capacity. In industrial areas, flaring can result from gas plant shutdowns or maintenance.

In the 2 years analyzed by the report, COG Operating, Energen Resources and XTO Energy    were venting and flaring  more than any other of the top companies analyzed. On average, the three Permian producers were venting and flaring between roughly 7 and 9 percent of their total production, according to the report.

The disparity between companies that have a high-percentage and low-percentage flaring and venting rate, the report says, suggests a “performance gap in the industry.”  With more than a third of the operators analyzed maintaining “consistent, minimal flaring rates”, the report suggests “companies and policy makers can do more to reduce gas waste and pollution through better flaring practices and policies.”

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About Carlos Morales

Carlos Morales is Marfa Public Radio's News Director, Border and Immigration Reporter, and Morning Edition Host.
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