The Texas Railroad Commission, the state agency that regulates the oil and gas industry, has agreed to move forward with industry-proposed changes that would help reduce high levels of oilfield flaring, the process whereby companies burn off excess natural gas into the air.
As Reform Austin reported in July, it’s a process environmentalists say contributes to climate change, pollutes the air, wastes natural gas and deprives royalty owners and the state of revenue from natural gas sales streams.
“Since the downturn, the rate of flaring has gone down, with more than 99.5 percent of the gas produced in the month of May sold and beneficially used to generate electricity, cook dinner, or make hundreds of consumer products,” said commission chair Wayne Christian. “Now is the opportune time to implement meaningful recommendations to reduce flaring before oil and gas production climbs back to previous highs.”
Not everyone agrees the changes are meaningful.
“Better data and documentation is a good thing, but the commission should listen to companies, the public and legislators calling on a much bolder approach to actually reduce pollution that is impacting communities right here in Texas,” said Cyrus Reed, interim director and conservation director of the Texas chapter of the Sierra Club.
Reed and others want a zero-tolerance approach. As justification, they cite higher rates of premature births near flaring, waste and industry trends away from flaring.
“Industry is quickly moving to a reality where zero routine flaring is the expected operational standard,” said Colin Leyden with the Austin office of the Environmental Defense Fund in a Houston Chronicle story. “The commission needs to commit to ending routine flaring by 2025, define interim targets, and stop granting long-term flaring exemptions — like the 30 we saw approved today.”
Leydon found it hypocritical that at the same time the commission was discussing reductions in flaring, commissioners also went ahead and approved 30 more flaring requests.
Commissioners will need to approve a final version of the new rules at a future meeting before they take effect. In the interim, there will be a 30-day public comment period.
The modifications require more justification for the need to flare, reduce the period of time operators will be allowed to flare and provide incentives for companies to reduce flaring.
With the economic downturn and decreased demand for oil, there has been a 79% decline in flaring, with most of that decline occurring since the pandemic hit.
As part of its effort to get a better picture of how much gas is flared and the specific reasons for it, the commission will continue analyzing the trends in the coming months.