Texas Railroad Commission Takes Further Steps to Address Flaring

Tue, August 18, 2020

Commissioners at the Railroad Commission of Texas (RRC), one of the state regulatory bodies that oversees oil and gas production, recently voted to approve draft changes that aim to reduce flaring within the Lonestar State.

The draft changes to Statewide Rule 32 will require operators to provide more specific information to justify the need to flare or vent gas, reduces the period of time in which an oil and gas operator can obtain exception to flare gas, and provides incentives for operators to use technologies to reduce the amount of gas flared.

RRC Chairman Wayne Christian lauded the proposed changes as a step in the ongoing effort to lower rates of flaring across Texas: “Today, we took an important first step in ensuring we have the data necessary to get an accurate view of the scope of flaring in Texas.”

The proposed changes include several recommendations made by the RRC’s Ribbon Task Force for Oil Economic Recovery, which was established in April of this year. The task force is comprised of well-respected industry associations including the Texas Oil and Gas Association (TXOGA), The Texas Alliance of Energy Producers, Texas Independent Producers and Royalty Owners Association (TIPRO), The Permian Basin Petroleum Association, The Panhandle Producers and Royalty Owners Association, and the Texas Pipeline Association. In its report ‘Flaring Recommendations & Best Practices,’ which was published in June, the task force outlined a plan to both support the state’s oil and gas production to meet domestic energy needs and combat flaring to lower methane emissions. 

The new draft rules come on the heels of industry-lead efforts to reduce flaring, like the Texas Methane and Flaring Coalition. Created in 2019, the coalition includes over 45 Texas oil and gas companies and seeks to “identify and promote operational and environmental recommended practices to minimize flaring and methane emissions.” The coalition, in its ongoing support of identifying means to reduce flaring, released a statement supporting the RRC’s draft changes to Statewide Rule 32, stating the coalition “…appreciates the Commissioners’ leadership and looks forward to working with regulators and the collective industry on meeting our shared goal of ending routine flaring in Texas.” The coalition also wrote that “The focus [in the on implementing a greater use of technology will continue to spur innovation, which is the hallmark of this industry.”

Leading operators have also been exploring innovative ways to combat flaring and lower methane emissions. EOG Resources, a Permian operator with activities that span both Texas and New Mexico. Recently, EOG Resources partnered with New Mexico’s Oil Conservation Division in a successful pilot project to reduce flaring with new technology. EOG Resources was recognized by the Environmental Defense Fund for its efforts, being named a leading Permian operator in its commitment to reduce its emissions footprint. 

While flaring continues to be a focus for oil and gas operators within the Permian Basin and across Texas, data show promising progress has been made.

In its announcement, the RRC noted that the ratio of gas flared to gas produced dropped 79 percent in Texas from June 2019 to May 2020, and that methane emissions related to the extraction of crude oil and natural gas have gone down by 23 percent since 1990, according to the EPA’s 2020 Inventory of U.S. Greenhouse Gas Emissions and Sinks.

Flaring is a complex issue, and one of many challenges oil and gas producers face in their ongoing mission to provide reliable energy to the world while minimizing their environmental impact. However, operators have risen to the occasion.  Oil and gas producers’ have shown in recent years that their commitment to reduce flaring is robust, and the myriad of efforts, reports, innovation and research stands as a testament to that commitment to find solutions.

Learn more about methane emissions and flaring here.