Over one week in December 2021 I visited dozens of oil and gas facilities in Region 7 of the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ), which includes Andrews, Borden, Crane, Dawson, Ector, Gaines, Glasscock, Howard, Loving, Martin, Midland, Pecos, Reeves, Terrell, Upton, Ward, Winkler counties and encompasses most of the Permian Basin.
During this time I documented and submitted 26 air complaints on various operators at numerous lease sites using optimal gas imaging (OGI) video. The evidence I collected shows excessive emissions ranging from:
- unlit and venting flares,
- malfunctioning flares,
- vapor recovery failures,
- tank hatches,
- tank pressure relief valves, and
- combustion emissions.
Of the 26 sites documented, I have recorded excessive hydrocarbon emissions on 90 previous occasions — some as far back as 2017. More than half of the 26 sites had emissions control technology that the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is depending on to reduce methane emissions — and 100% of those were failing.
This pollution is being continuously released without regard to human health, climate change, site operations and maintenance, and permit representations.
At Maple Energy Holding LLC’s Seattle Slew site in Pecos, OGI video that I recorded on December 12, 2021 shows massive, dense plumes of uncombusted hydrocarbon being released at very high pressure from two unlit flares. There was an intense hydrogen sulfide odor along Interstate 20 downwind of this facility. Hydrogen sulfide is a toxic and potentially deadly gas often emitted by oil and gas facilities known to cause adverse health effects including a headache, burning eyes, nausea and light-headedness.
I recorded a second OGI video at the same site four days later on December 16, 2021 which documents a continuous stream of hydrocarbon emissions being emitted from the rooftop area of the storage tank battery — despite a vapor recovery system on site. I have documented egregious and ongoing emissions at this site since 2018 and made air complaints previously on four separate occasions over the years.
As long as we continue to allow oil and gas extraction and infrastructure to keep expanding, atmospheric methane levels will only climb higher — and along with them, the harmful and unjust impacts of the steadily warming climate.
Methane emissions from oil and gas production in the Permian Basin are projected to become one of the world’s largest sources of climate pollution. The proliferation of fossil fuel infrastructure from the Permian Basin to the Gulf Coast burdens systematically marginalized, low-income, Black, Brown and Indigenous populations while also spreading air and water pollution and safety risks these facilities bring to communities that had been spared until recently.
Earthworks sent a letter to the TCEQ in 2019 detailing the agency’s chronic failure to comply with its own policies regarding public complaints as required by Texas law and how TCEQ regularly takes months and sometimes more than a year to investigate complaints about air pollution from oil and gas operations.
These impacts, in addition to the local impacts described above, disproportionately affect human beings who are already marginalized. To build a healthier world where all can thrive, we must urgently stop all new oil and gas permits and proceed with a rapid and just transition to renewable energy.
To watch videos of the complaints submitted, click here.