Phony Attacks On Permian Oil And Gas Show Environmentalists In Desperation Mode

Wednesday, May 15, 2019

Steve Everly | Midland Reporter-Telegram | May 15, 2019

The United States is now the global leader in oil and natural gas development, due in large part to the Permian Basin. Since 2011, oil and gas production in the Permian Basin has increased by 125 percent. Earlier this year, we discovered the Permian Basin is actually the highest producing oilfield in the world.

Unfortunately, there are still those who oppose oil and gas production, and the Permian Basin is a target, particularly for out-of-state environmental groups. Unable to criticize the region based on facts, they take data out of context and make accusations that have little basis in reality.

The latest example of this is a new report from the Washington D.C.-based Environmental Integrity Project (EIP), which misleads the public on emissions from oil and gas development in the Permian Basin by claiming “harmful” levels of sulfur dioxide (SO2) based on a handful of isolated events. The report also mischaracterizes operations from oil and gas facilities as “illegal air pollution,” even though such events are codified in Texas law and operators must submit details on those events to state regulators.

EIP focuses on what it calls “unauthorized” emissions, which are basically emissions stemming from maintenance, shutdowns or unplanned events. EIP calls these emissions “illegal,” yet they admit that they gathered their data from reports filed with the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality. Under state law, operators are required to notify TCEQ when these emissions events occur, including the volume of what was emitted.

That’s right: an environmental group is accusing the oil and gas industry of breaking the law because the companies are complying with the law.

If that sounds like an act of desperation, it gets worse.

EIP claims that SO2 levels measured over 460 parts per billion (ppb) in Big Spring in March 2018, which was about six times higher than EPA’s air quality standard of 75 ppb. EPA’s standard is based on the “99th percentile of 1-hour daily maximum concentrations, averaged over 3 years.” But the measurement EIP referenced occurred at 3am on a single day; it was not the average for that day, much less the average for the whole month. In fact, reviewing the same time period in EIP’s report shows that the individual instances of concentrations above 75 ppb were only 0.14 percent of the total period: 30 instances out of more than 21,000 one-hour readings.

Of course, EIP has a history of misleading the public on emissions in Texas. An October 2018 EIP report, for example, overstated emissions from export facilities and petrochemical plants on the Gulf Coast by tens of millions of tons. The report even alleged significant emissions from facilities that had not yet been built, a fact that forced at least one major Texas newspaper to make corrections to its story about EIP’s claims.

Most of the emissions identified by EIP are supposedly due to flaring. Yet what EIP conveniently omits is that the capacity of just the new natural gas pipelines coming online in the Permian in the next few years is 93 times larger than current flaring volumes. The word “pipeline” appears only twice in EIP’s report, and only then to malign them as additional potential sources of emissions.

A recent analysis of emissions intensity in the Permian Basin shows methane emissions per unit of oil and gas produced declined 57 percent from 2011 to 2017. Methane reductions do not occur in a vacuum and typically occur alongside reductions in volatile organic compounds and other emissions. This is even more impressive considering that oil and gas production more than doubled over the same period.

If the facts supported the anti-fossil fuel agenda, groups like EIP would not consistently rely on cherry-picked data and misleading reports to try to restrict development. That they continue to do so only validates the amazing progress that has been made in the Permian Basin as the region has become one of the world’s hottest oilfields.