Methane Emissions & Flaring
By the Numbers
The United States has become a world leader in energy, and that’s no accident. Thanks to fracking, the country has seen record oil and natural gas production and a sharp decline in our reliance on imports of foreign oil. While we have become the world’s largest oil and gas producer, companies have also focused on reducing the methane intensity of their operations. Nationwide, methane emissions from oil and natural gas production declined by nearly 800,000 metric tons of CO2 equivalent from 2016 to 2018. That is the equivalent of taking nearly 170,000 cars off the road.
In Texas, only a small fraction of natural gas produced is vented or flared, even as the Permian Basin has been a hub of oil and natural gas development, helping propel the United States towards becoming a net energy exporter in 2020. In fact, the amount of natural gas vented or flared in 2018 represents only 1.26 percent of all natural gas that was produced that same year.
Between 2011 and 2018, methane emissions intensity in the Permian Basin declined by 63.8 percent, while oil and gas production from the Permian increased by 211.5 percent.
If it were its own country, the Permian Basin – and the United States – are miles ahead of other oil and natural gas superpowers when it comes to flaring intensity.
One of the clearest solutions to reducing flaring and methane emissions is to build out energy infrastructure – specifically pipelines. Growing pipeline capacity both in Texas and across the United States will alleviate the bottleneck issues that many energy producers face, providing a market for gas that would otherwise be vented or flared.
What is Flaring?
Flaring is a temporary and necessary practice in oil and natural gas production that is used as a safety measure and to mitigate more harmful emissions. In Texas, flaring is regulated by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ) and the Railroad Commission of Texas (RRC).
Oil and natural gas companies continue to discover, research and implement new processes to reduce the need to flare. The results of these efforts are clear: U.S. oil and natural gas production has reached historic highs, yet the United States ranks far below most major oil and gas producing countries for flaring intensity.
Several recent media reports, driven by environmental activists, have called attention to flaring as a “wasteful” practice. But it’s important to stress that anti-fossil fuel activists have been caught misleading the public about methane emissions and flaring. For example, many activists portray flaring as a danger to those nearby. In fact, flaring is often a safety mechanism, allowing operators to release excess pressure, which reduces the risk of fires or other incidents.
The best way to reduce flaring is through the addition of new infrastructure, particularly pipelines. Companies have an economic incentive not to flare, as natural gas is a valuable product. Unfortunately, many of the same critics who attack the industry over flaring have also literally stood in the way as energy companies tried to build new pipeline infrastructure, which would otherwise allow clean-burning natural gas to reach end users.
Have more questions? You can download our FAQ on flaring & methane emissions here.
More on Flaring & Methane Emissions From the Blog:
- Analysis: Methane Emissions Intensity Declines in the Permian Basin (December 2019)
- The U.S. Oil & Gas Industry is Cutting Methane Emissions (November 2019)
- Flaring, Infrastructure And Embracing The Dual Challenge (August 2019)
- The Solution to Flaring is Building More Pipelines (August 2019)
- Flaring Natural Gas Is The Safer Environmental Option (July 2019)
- Analysis: Methane Emissions Intensity Declines in Top Shale Basins (April 2019)