Energy Exchange

A year of data and one clear message: Permian flaring remains a major problem

By Colin Leyden and Ben Hmiel

Even amidst a global pandemic and market volatility that reduced oil and gas activity, at least one thing didn’t change in the Permian last year: operators can’t seem to keep their flares lit.

Throughout 2020, EDF conducted aerial surveys of portions of the Permian Basin to determine the performance of natural gas flares. Even when done properly, flaring is a wasteful, polluting practice that has earned industry “a black eye.” But when flares malfunction they also become major sources of highly potent, climate-polluting methane.

Over the course of 2020, we conducted periodic surveys of flares in various parts of the Permian. These took place in February, March, June and November, and included a series of consecutive, repeat surveys of one specific area on November 2, 4 and 6 meant to understand how long flare malfunctions persist. In total, we studied nearly 1,200 flares in the region.

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Also posted in Methane, Methane regulatons, Natural Gas, PermianMAP, Texas / Comments are closed

Another study reveals Permian methane levels are abnormally high, reinforcing need for action

By Jon Goldstein and David Lyon

A new peer-reviewed study published today once again confirms the Permian Basin has some of the leakiest oil and gas wells in the country.

For the study, researchers with the University of Wyoming used a mobile methane laboratory to quantify emissions from 46 randomly selected well pads in New Mexico and 25 in Texas. They found those sites are emitting between 5 to 9 times more methane pollution than The Environmental Protection Agency estimates suggest.

This granular look at well pad emissions is a critical part of understanding what is causing the emissions. Earlier this year, EDF used this data to estimate total methane emissions across New Mexico and concluded the state was likely emitting up to one million metric tons of methane per year.

When combined with other measurement techniques, we can get an even clearer sense of the entire region’s methane footprint. The satellite-based TROPOMI methane instrument, as well as aerial surveys conducted through our PermianMAP project — can detect emissions from other types of oil and gas equipment.

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Also posted in Air Quality, Methane, Methane regulatons, Natural Gas, Texas / Comments are closed

Two chemicals that remind us why we should exercise caution with the oil industry’s wastewater

Over the past few years, we’ve written a lot about the wastewater generated from oil and gas production — specifically, how little is known about what’s in it and the potential risks of exposure.

But as states try to set standards for how to safely treat and dispose of this waste, there are two chemicals in particular that deserve to be among the regulatory priorities.

The first is a class of synthetic chemicals known as per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances — PFAS for short. Members of this class, often referred to as “forever chemicals” because they are highly persistent in the environment, are known to cause adverse health impacts in humans. This can include a range of symptoms, including damage to the immune system, low infant birth weights and cancer.

The second chemical is 1,4-dioxane. Short-term exposure to this carcinogen can cause immediate health impacts, like eye, nose and throat irritation and impaired lung function. Prolonged exposure can lead to liver and kidney damage, as well as cancer.

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Also posted in Colorado, Natural Gas, Pennsylvania, produced water, Texas / Comments are closed

Amid federal rollbacks, new study shows stronger methane rules make economic sense for New Mexico

Over the past month, the Trump administration has pressed forward with rollbacks of federal protections from oil and gas methane pollution — a move that will result in millions of tons of additional emissions every year and endanger public health, air quality and our climate.

The loss of these protections underscores the importance of Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham’s commitment to nation-leading methane rules in New Mexico. Achieving the governor’s goal will require regulators to close loopholes in their proposed rules that would leave emissions from 95% of oil and gas wells across the state unchecked.

Fortunately, new economic analysis reveals that by closing these pollution loopholes the state can deliver strong, cost-effective rules that reduce pollution, safeguard air quality and deliver millions of dollars in public health benefits and increased royalties.

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Also posted in Air Quality, Methane, Methane regulatons, Natural Gas / Comments are closed

5 questions on flaring for investors to ask oil and gas companies

For investors concerned with environmental, social and governance issues, flaring poses one of the most immediate and material risks to shareholder value in the oil and gas industry. For an industry that prides itself on operational excellence, flaring is a waste of potentially saleable product and an unsustainable industry practice with detrimental climate and public health effects.

But the practice of routine flaring, which burns off natural gas at oil and gas sites when producers are unprepared to transport or store the fuel, is also a challenge with clear opportunity for solutions. As J.P. Morgan Asset Management recently observed, “flaring is a problem with multiple solutions and a compelling long-term economic proposition.”

As industry, investors and Texas regulators begin to acknowledge the problem, how can shareholders support management teams’ continuous improvement and understand which operators are getting it right and which are not keeping pace?

Asking the right questions through shareholder engagement is a good place to start.

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Also posted in Air Quality, Methane, Natural Gas, Texas / Comments are closed

A zero flaring policy is long overdue, and investors can help make it reality

As investors take a hard look at the U.S. energy sector during this time of volatility, natural gas flaring is one of the most important and immediate risks to manage.

The eyesore of the oilfield, flaring natural gas destroys shareholder value and creates environmental, social and governance risk — exactly the kind of problem that an increasing number of asset managers, investment banks, and even private equity firms have promised to address.

Routine flaring is damaging the environment in several ways. In addition to the CO2 emissions from combusted gas, flares can release significant amounts of methane into the atmosphere. EDF’s recent helicopter survey found that more than one in every 10 flares at oil and gas sites across the Permian Basin was either unlit — venting uncombusted methane straight to the atmosphere — or only partially burning the gas they were releasing. In fact, the survey suggests that flaring could be among the region’s largest sources of fugitive methane and a troublesome contributor to local air pollution.

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Also posted in Air Quality, Climate, Methane, Natural Gas, PermianMAP, Texas / Comments are closed