Most flares from Texas Permian oil drilling are unlicensed

A flame burns excess natural gas in the Permian Basin, Loving County, Texas, USA, on November 23, 2019. Photograph taken on November 23, 2019. REUTERS / Angus Mordant // Photo by l ‘ file

August 19 (Reuters) – Oil producers like Exxon Mobil (XOM.N) and Royal Dutch Shell (RDSa.L) burn gas at the largest oil field in the United States without the necessary Texas state permits, the environmental group said Earthworks in a report Thursday.

Energy producers spread gas, an unwanted byproduct of oil extraction, when they cannot transport gas to consumers. Scattering reduces, but does not eliminate, methane emissions and contributes to climate change by releasing carbon dioxide into the atmosphere.

Texas, the country’s largest oil producer, has more permissive permit rules than other oil and gas-producing states, and regulators have opposed additional regulations to limit emissions.

The report compared Texas regulator permit records with face-to-face flares on flights equipped with gas imaging cameras that were conducted by the Environmental Defense Fund. It was found that of 227 flares observed, between 69% and 84% were probably unauthorized.

Major producers such as Shell, Exxon and Diamondback Energy Inc (FANG.O) were among the companies with several outbreaks that did not have permits, according to the report.

Shell and Exxon, which did not review the full report before publication, dismissed the main line findings, saying they follow all regulations and are working to end routine outbreaks. Diamondback did not respond to any requests for comment.

A Shell spokeswoman said it has not “routinely exploded in the Permian Basin” since 2018, while Exxon spokeswoman Julie King said its explosion in the Permian Basin is at a “minimum less than 1% “.

State regulations allow the appearance of unauthorized flames in some cases, including emissions from storage tanks, during the first 10 days after the completion of a well or during the maintenance, construction or repair of equipment, a spokesman for the state oil and gas regulator, the Texas Railroad Commission. (TRC), he told Reuters in response to the report. The commission reviewed the report before publishing it.

“A short-term observation of a high-pass flare and the absence of an explicit exception does not necessarily mean that the observed flare is illegal,” TRC spokesman Andrew Keese said.

“There are flaws in Earthworks analysis. The report’s conclusion is based on incomplete data or inaccurate assumptions.”

Earthworks said it excluded sites less than 10 days old, storage tanks and similar cases from the analysis. He also said emergency outbreaks, which are allowed for up to 24 hours without permission, did not appear to be the reason for the outbreaks, as only three sites observed reported emergencies to the TRC.

“Oil and gas fields in Texas are simply illegal,” Sharon Wilson, chief advocate of the Earthworks field, one of the report’s authors, said in an interview.

“Even operators who promised to follow the rules don’t.”

Texas regularly grants exceptions to state regulations that require the capture and use of gas produced from oil wells. The state, which produces nearly 5 million barrels of oil each day, accounted for 47 percent of all natural gas vented or blown up in the United States in 2019, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration.

The explosion in the Permian has slowed in the past two years, reaching its lowest level since 2017 in May, according to energy research firm Rystad.

President Joe Biden’s administration is expected in September to unveil new regulations for the oil and gas sector to curb methane emissions, which could occur during the explosion. These rules would be enforced by state regulators such as the TRC, which said in a letter to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency last month that it opposes tighter regulation on methane.

Reports by Nichola Groom and Valerie Volcovici; Edited by Aurora Ellis

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