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Report: Oil-Field Flaring Emits More Methane than Previously Known

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Friday, October 7, 2022   

Ahead of revised methane regulations expected from the federal government, a new study shows that gas flaring in oil-producing states such as Texas could be more harmful than previously thought.

The industry has maintained that flaring at oil and gas fields is 98% effective at reducing methane. The study, however, showed that the rate is closer to 91%.

"And you don't even have to be an expert with a flare camera to see unlit flares and smoking flares at any given moment," said Sheila Serna, climate science and policy director at the Rio Grande International Study Center, who previously worked as an air investigator in Texas.

High levels of methane can reduce the amount of oxygen people get from the air, resulting in multiple health problems. The Environmental Protection Agency is expected to release its supplemental proposal for regulating methane pollution sometime this month.

John Goldstein, senior director for regulatory and legislative affairs at the Environmental Defense Fund, said the study findings show flaring is responsible for five times more methane entering the atmosphere than previously estimated.

"That's a big deal for climate," he said. "That's a big deal for the waste of natural-gas resources. That's a big deal for local air pollution."

In 2020 and 2021, Goldstein said, researchers took more than 12 flights to test the emissions produced by flaring across the three major U.S. oil- and gas-producing areas.

"Eighty-percent of this problem is focused in two states: North Dakota and Texas," he said. "So, those are two states that have a lot of flaring, and that haven't done adequate measures at the state level to really curtail that practice."

Texas currently does not regulate methane emissions, and Serna said that's needed because when flares don't operate properly, they release unburned methane directly into the atmosphere.

"The regulation is the first step," she said, "but state agencies also need to do their part in making sure that the regulations are actually followed and carried out - holding the state accountable, and holding industry accountable to following the regulation."

Disclosure: Environmental Defense Fund, Energy Transition Program contributes to our fund for reporting on Climate Change/Air Quality, Energy Policy, Environment, Public Lands/Wilderness. If you would like to help support news in the public interest, click here.


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