Report: 69-84% of Texas methane flares are unpermitted

Largest oil state’s indifference to climate pollution threatens Biden climate goals

Released today by the environmental watchdog Earthworks and endorsed by Environment Texas and the Sierra Club Lone Star Chapter, Flaring in Texas: a comprehensive government failure — What the Railroad Commission doesn’t track, it can’t govern, compares directly observed flares from oil and gas site flyovers against the state regulator’s flaring permitting database to determine that 69-84% of observed methane gas flares were unpermitted.

“For those who may not be familiar with the environmental and policy implications of flaring and venting, the new Earthworks report is a valuable overview of these issues. The report also makes a compelling case that many oil companies could be acting as better stewards of the environment, and that the Railroad Commission of Texas needs to exert stronger regulatory authority over them. The report is an important document that everyone should read.” –– Vikki Goodwin, Texas State Representative, House District 47

Earthworks cross referenced the Texas Railroad Commission (RRC, which governs the oil and gas industry, not railroads), Master Flaring and Venting Document with publicly available data from Environmental Defense Fund (EDF) flyovers conducted in January, March, June 2020 mainly in the RRC’s District 8 covering the Permian Basin.  The RRC reviewed the report before publication and their comments were incorporated.

“As the world’s climate scientists tell us we need to cut methane pollution to avoid climate catastrophe, Texas regulators can’t even be bothered to track methane flaring.”  report lead author and Earthworks’ Texas Field Analyst Jack McDonald

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change recently released a report — the consensus of the world’s climate scientists — alerting the world that unless we take immediate action to cut climate pollution, devoting a chapter to methane and similar super pollutants in particular — we will not be able to avoid 1.5 degrees in global warming.

The Biden Environmental Protection Agency has announced that this fall it will propose stronger federal rules to cut methane pollution from oil and gas production. Under the Clean Air Act, enforcement of federal rules is delegated to the states, but that authority can be rescinded. In response to EPA’s announcement, Texas regulators that would enforce those rules sent a July 30 letter to EPA opposing them.

“To make good on his climate promises, President Biden must address the Permian climate bomb that’s exploding in Texas.” — report co-author and Earthworks’ Senior Field Advocate Sharon Wilson

Properly combusted flaring is responsible for .6% of all human-driven fossil fuel carbon dioxide emissions. Unlit and malfunctioning flares are more of a climate threat because they release methane — which is 86x more powerful a climate pollutant than carbon dioxide. Oil and gas production is the U.S. #1 industrial methane polluter.

“No state emits more toxic chemicals and methane from oil and gas than Texas and yet Texas regulators have turned a blind eye toward adopting new regulations and only enforce selectively. Unless we can change our captured state agencies we will have to rely on federal rulemaking and oversight, citizen suits and enforcement and reports like this one to shine a light on an out of control industry and a corrupt regulatory regime.” — Cyrus Reed, Conservation Director of the Sierra Club Lone Star Chapter

Flaring can result in health problems for people living in proximity because flares also release toxic volatile organic compounds like benzene. Pregnant women who live near flares have as much as 50% greater chance of premature birth. Living in proximity to flares is linked to eye, nose, and throat irritation, respiratory problems, nausea, headaches, and dizziness.

“Flaring is dirty and wasteful and most of the time it happens illegally. The Railroad Commission needs to stop turning a blind eye to this environmental disaster and put an end to flaring once and for all.” — Luke Metzger, Executive Director of Environment Texas

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