U.S. oil and gas fields burn billions of cubic feet of natural gas each year, wasting fossil fuels and emitting greenhouse gases, without actually producing energy. In Texas alone, since 2019, state regulators have allowed companies to burn more than 1 million cubic feet of natural gas per day. Together, this natural gas is sufficient to meet the annual natural gas needs of 15 million households.

For various safety and economic reasons, fossil fuel companies choose to burn natural gas instead of capturing and selling natural gas. The most common is that there is an oversupply of natural gas in oil fields and insufficient pipeline capacity to transport it to refineries and markets.The solution to the deadlock is to burn excess natural gas-mainly by Methane, A sort of A potent global warming pollutant -Approved by the national regulatory agency.

The Texas Railroad Commission (RRC) is the national agency responsible for regulating the oil and gas industry and overseeing company combustion practices. When fossil fuel companies want to burn, they need to apply for permission from the agency. But a new analysis by Earthworks, an environmental non-profit organization, found convincing evidence that they usually don’t bother. In fact, according to the organization, more than two-thirds of the 227 flares observed in three months of 2020 are not allowed by the state, which may plunge RRC into darkness.

“They don’t know most of the fires in Texas,” said Alan Septoff, a spokesperson for the nonprofit organization. “All the state data on which they make their policy is nonsense.”

When natural gas is burned in the combustion process, methane is converted into carbon dioxide and released into the atmosphere. But the torch is usually not completely burned or not ignited, which will cause methane to be emitted directly into the air-which has a greater impact on climate change.The geoengineering report calculated the ignited and unignited flares, and added more and more evidence that Methane emissions from oil and gas fields Was greatly underestimated. This is also the first analysis to determine that Texas oil fields may constitute a factor of widespread illegal combustion.

Tim Doty, a former employee of the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ), reviewed Earthworks’ analysis and told Grist that he was “not particularly surprised” by the findings. As an investigator for the law enforcement department of a regulatory agency, until his retirement in 2018, he said that it is well known that there are “large amounts of unregulated emissions” in oil fields. (Although the combustion permit is granted by RRC, TCEQ is responsible for overseeing air quality in the state and has jurisdiction over emissions from combustion.)

“The system is actually based on the honor system,” he said. “You want actual field activities to reflect paperwork.”

Methane is a unique and powerful factor that causes climate change.Last week’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report identified methane as The second largest contributor to global warming After carbon dioxide. This gas is more effective than carbon dioxide, and the oil and gas industry is an important source of this substance. When the torch burns gas incorrectly, the methane emissions of the torch will be accompanied by black carbon and toxic volatile organic compounds such as carcinogenic benzene. Therefore, in addition to the long-term threat to the climate, the torch is also a more direct public health problem. .

Earthworks field analyst Jack McDonald relies on two data sets to identify unlicensed flares in Texas. The first is provided by the Environmental Protection Foundation, which is an environmental non-profit organization. Study methane emissions Oil fields and found that companies often underestimate the amount of gas they release into the atmosphere. This data set records the flares observed by the helicopter flyover conducted by the Environmental Protection Fund in January, March, and June 2020. McDonald then obtained a second permitted flare data set from RRC through a public record request. He compared the flares observed during the flyover with the list of flares actually allowed by the country.

The result is obvious. In at least 69% of cases, McDonald was unable to find any permits for the observed flares. In the two flares investigated by the Environmental Protection Fund Helicopter, almost 80% were found to be disallowed in either case. Of the 36 cases where flares were investigated three times, more than half of the cases were not allowed in all three cases. According to the report, the most serious offenders include Shell and ExxonMobil-the two companies have publicly pledged to reduce methane emissions. According to MacDonald, none of the seven flares observed related to Shell’s business were allowed. In ExxonMobil’s case, only two of the eight flares observed were allowed.

“From the data point of view, none of these flares can be legal,” McDonald said. He added that the agency’s emissions and combustion data “may be inaccurate because the operators did not provide them with licensing information”.

RRC spokesperson Andrew Keese (Andrew Keese) said that the flares identified by Earthworks may not be regulated. State regulations allow emergency combustion within the first 10 days and 24 hours after drilling without obtaining a permit or notifying the state government.

“Short-term observations of flares on overpasses and the absence of clear exceptions do not necessarily mean that the observed flares are illegal,” he said.

Earthworks field analyst MacDonald said none of the torches observed were related to recently completed oil wells, and also questioned whether the operator had abused the emergency exemption instead of simply burning the torch without permission for a long time.

Spokespersons for ExxonMobil and Shell denied that they blew themselves up without permission. ExxonMobil spokesperson Julie King stated that the report was “inaccurate and deliberately misleading,” while Shell spokesperson Natalie Gunnell stated that the company will not burn or emit natural gas without permission and is committed to reducing its Emissions. Methane intensity ——Measure the amount of emissions per unit of energy — Reduce to less than 0.2% by 2025. Both King and Gunnell pointed out that not all burning activities require a permit. “Flyover operations cannot distinguish between required or unnecessary burning or venting events [permits],” Gunnell said.

The Earthworks report calls on RRC to better enforce the burning rules by hiring more inspectors, increasing the number of inspections, increasing penalties for violations, and prohibiting burning permits for repeat offenders. MacDonald said that if the agency fails to comply with state rules, the Texas legislature must step in.

“If the committee is not going to fix it, then the legislature can step in and fix it,” he said.

“I don’t think anyone thinks that the Railway Commission is a well-intentioned actor. He will strengthen the supervision of oil and gas companies without external repairs.”

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