Federal Data Show Dramatic Decline in Methane Emissions from Venting and Flaring

Monday, February 12, 2018

Methane emissions from venting and flaring during petroleum production declined by 40 percent between 2015 and 2016, according to a new draft report from the. U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

This decline in methane emissions from venting and flaring tracks with broader trends in the oilfield. The EPA data – pulled from the Draft Inventory of U.S. Greenhouse Gas Emissions and Sinks 1990-2016 (GHGI) – also show that between 2015 and 2016, methane emissions from all petroleum systems declined by roughly 100,000 metric tons of carbon dioxide equivalent (CO2e). Emissions from natural gas systems declined by 2.3 million metric tons CO2e over the same period.

In fact, EPA cites declining emissions from venting and flaring as a main reason why methane emissions from petroleum production as a whole have decreased dramatically over the past several decades. According to the report:

“Since 1990, CH4 emissions from production have decreased by 12 percent, due to decreases in tank emissions and in associated gas venting.”

Natural gas systems saw an even greater decline in methane emissions over this period. According to EPA, emissions from natural gas systems declined by 31.6 million metric tons CO2e since 1990, or roughly 16 percent.

In Texas specifically, methane emissions from oil and gas production in the Permian Basin declined by about 300,000 metric tons CO2e between 2011 and 2016. In the Gulf Coast Basin, which includes the Eagle Ford Shale, methane emissions experienced a similar decline, dropping by roughly 300,000 metric tons CO2e over this same period.  

The fact that methane emissions are declining in Texas is especially relevant, not only as the country’s largest oil and natural gas producer, but because critics have latched onto venting and flaring concerns, referencing the supposed “waste” of methane from these processes. Environmentalists say more regulation is needed, particularly at the federal level, to reduce emissions.

But as the latest federal data suggest, emissions are already heading in the right direction – even as domestic production soars and the United States approaches net-energy-exporter status.