Flaring: Texas Style

(Republished blog from December 7, 2020)

The old saying — “Waste not, want not” — along with dire warnings about climate change, are being ignored in Texas, enough so that a pipeline operator is actually suing the Railroad Commission of Texas, the commission overseeing drilling in that state.

Image: Oil and gas well flare emissions are known sources of air pollution and may include benzene, toluene and xylenes, which are known to be carcinogenic.

Jessica Corso of the San Antonio Business Journal reports:

Pipeliner takes Railroad Commission to court over “needless” flaring
December 6, 2019 – Pipeline operator Williams MLP Operating LLC is suing the Railroad Commission of Texas over what it alleges is a pattern of allowing “needless” flaring of natural gas in the state. Williams filed a lawsuit in Travis County court last month challenging the Railroad Commission’s decision to allow Exco Operating Co. LP to burn off gas at 130 oil wells in South Texas. Despite the fact that Williams operates a gathering system that connects to those wells and could have transported that gas to market, the Railroad Commission authorized the flaring because it wasn’t profitable for Exco to sell the gas, according to the lawsuit.


Mission Statement of the RRC: The Railroad Commission serves Texas through: • our stewardship of natural resources and the environment; • our concern for personal and community safety; and • our support of enhanced development and economic vitality for the benefit of Texans. Source

So where does burning-off all that natural gas fit in with “stewardship of natural resources and the environment?” or “concern for personal and community safety?

Jessica Corso reports further:

Highlighting reporting done by The Wall Street Journal in July, the lawsuit claims that the Railroad Commission has approved every flaring request that has come before it during the past seven years. Flaring permits have increased by 44% over the past decade — from 158 approved in fiscal 2009 to nearly 7,000 approved in the latest fiscal year, according to the Commission’s figures. The recent pattern of approving every flaring permit contradicts a long-standing tradition at the agency of frequently prohibiting flaring.


report last May by the Environmental Integrity Project, a not-for-profit group, cited a lack of air quality monitoring in west Texas, with only one station to track sulphur dioxide levels, and limited regulatory oversight which relies on companies to self-report unauthorised emissions. Source

West Texas Residents Bear a Heavy Health Burden
An article published in the Journal of Environmental Science and Technology on January 27, 2018, estimates that air pollution “emission events” in Texas cause $150 million per year in health costs. The authors acknowledge that this cost is likely an underestimation, because it is based only on premature deaths from fine particle pollution. Figure 1 shows the distribution of the health costs, with some of the highest in the Permian Basin. Source

EARTHWORKS VIDEO: Unlit Flares in the Permian Basin

Today’s story in The Guardian today spells it out further:

Why Texas’s fossil fuel support will ‘spell disaster’ for climate crisis
Texas is now intensifying its support of the fossil fuel industry and, pipeline by pipeline, literally laying the groundwork for production to ramp up even more in the next decade. The scale of new production is “staggering”, according to an analysis by Global Witness, a campaign group, with Texas leading the way as US output of oil and gas is forecast to rise by 25% over the next decade. This makes it a “looming carbon timebomb”, the group believes, in a period when global oil and gas production needs to drop by 40% to mitigate the worst impacts of the climate crisis. “The sheer scale of this new production dwarfs that of every other country in the world and would spell disaster for the world’s ambitions to curb climate change,” the report states.

Meantime, the automobile industry is moving forward with electric vehicles that would eliminate the use of gasoline and most other petroleum products. In yesterday’s Quartz story by Michael J. Coren we read:

2019 was the year electric cars grew up
Automakers and the suppliers collectively put $225 billion for EV investments over the next five years. Volkswagen (VW) led the way with a $44 billion “electric offensive,” a promise to abandon the development of all new fossil fuel vehicles by 2026 and sell 40% EVs by 2030. Ford, after years of ambivalence, invested $500 million into electric truck startup Rivian on top of least $11 billion in new EV investments and launched the all-electric Mustang Mach-E SUV.
While the US remains far behind Europe and China, the number of public charging stations in the US has soared from just 506 at the end of 2010 to over 20,000 in May 2019. While market forces alone suggest a gradual increase, a White House in 2020 (or 2025) that imposes stricter emissions controls on the transportation sector (as Obama promised) could drive exponential EV growth automakers are seeking.

We can only hope (and VOTE) that our nation’s political leaders will return to saner environmental regulations, leaving a better Planet for future generations.
As the saying goes, “There is no Planet B.”
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