What Is Flaring?
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 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 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.
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. Nationally, methane emissions from U.S. energy production have declined 17 percent between 1990-2019, while oil and natural gas production has grown 66 and 96 percent, respectively.
Texas, in particular, has been a leader in reducing flaring and emissions. 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. In fact, the amount of natural gas vented or flared in 2018 represents only 1.26 percent of all the natural gas that was produced that same year. Across the Lonestar state, flaring intensity among oil and natural gas producers decreased nearly 71 percent from June 2019 to May 2021.
In the Permian Basin, methane emissions intensity fell 77 percent, while oil production increased by over 300 percent between 2011 and 2019.
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. In fact, the Permian Basin would not even rank among the 30 worst energy producers in flaring intensity, with a lower intensity than other major producers like Algeria, Venezuela, Iran and Russia.
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.
Have more questions? You can download our FAQ on flaring & methane emissions here.
More on Flaring & Methane Emissions From the Blog:
- Flaring in Texas Falls By Over 70 Percent (August 2021)
- Oil & Gas producers, Texas leads the way in tackling methane emissions (June 2021)
- Flaring Progress in the Permian: Leading the World (March 2021)
- Report: Oil and Gas Industry Continues Progress in Reducing Methane Emissions (July 2020)
- Five Key Findings from a New Report on Flaring in Texas (February 2020)
- Analysis: Methane Emissions Intensity Declines in the Permian Basin (December 2019)
- The U.S. Oil & Gas Industry is Cutting Methane Emissions (November 2019)