America's busiest oil field burns and wastes approximately $ 1 million worth of natural gas each day.
Slate borers in the Permian Basin of Texas and New Mexico say they have no way to market the gas, a by-product of oil drilling, because there are not enough natural gas pipelines. Instead, they eliminate the excess gas by setting it on fire, a practice known as flaring.
The companies spend about 3% of the gas extracted in the Perm. But the production in the tank is so high that the amount of gas burned every day would be large enough to cover the daily needs of states such as Montana or New Hampshire by some estimates. Flaring also causes greenhouse gas emissions equivalent to 2 million cars.
Slate borers flicker with the approval of state regulators. With more natural gas pipelines and storage facilities in place, the only alternative to burning gas would be to reduce some of the region's lucrative oil production, which boosts the region's economy and raise US crude oil production to a record 1
Texas officials say they expect the problem to finally solve as soon as the necessary infrastructure is built.
"There is nothing for us to do," said
a member of the Texas Railroad Commission, which regulates oil and gas operations. "If gas becomes a waste product, people will flare it up."
The Wall Street Journal reviewed data on the more than 20,000 approval requests companies had submitted to the Texas Railroad Commission to produce gas in the past five years. None was denied in early August, the data show. Officials confirmed that the numbers were correct.
A similar problem surfaced in another shale hole in North Dakota earlier this decade, causing the state to tighten regulations. Flaring was widespread at the beginning of the oil industry because natural gas was considered less valuable than oil. It remains global, with Russia, Iraq and Iran responsible for two-fifths of the gas emitted last year, according to the World Bank.
In the Perm, flaring will intensify in the coming years as a company plunge to pump more oil from the basin. While oil accounts for about $ 69 a barrel, natural gas is currently sold for less than $ 3 million UK thermal power plants and has become a largely undesirable side effect of the oil boom in the region.
Daily perm production has risen to 3.3 million barrels of oil According to the US Energy Information Administration, nearly 11 billion cubic feet of natural gas were used in June.
Flaring has increased to 320 million cubic meters per day in the second quarter, according to an analysis of published data from Rystad Energy, an energy consulting and research firm. The data combine the gas that was burnt or released directly into the atmosphere – a practice known as venting that is worse for the environment than flaring.
But flaring still produces carbon dioxide, a greenhouse gas, and causes air pollution. The resulting greenhouse gas emissions from burning so much gas in the Perm correspond to the emissions of about 2 million cars, according to World Bank and Environmental Protection Agency estimates. An analysis of demand data from the EIA also shows that the daily gas burned in the Perm exceeds the daily consumption of many small states.
As perm oil production continues to increase, Rydast Energy's flaring projects will more than double next year and will not drop significantly until the end of 2019, when new gas pipelines go into operation.
Texas officials have so far responded by allowing companies to flicker as much as they want. The regulators of New Mexico, which began in 2015 to require companies to explain their flaring, also allowed companies to continue burning the gas. New Mexico officials did not respond to questions about the recent increase in flaring.
Without stricter regulations, "the economic driver to do something with it is not strong," said
a consultant to the World Bank's Global Gas Flaring Reduction Partnership, an attempt to stem flaring globally.
Royal Dutch Shell
The PLC, which is a member of the World Bank's initiative and has committed to stop "routine" flaring by 2030, flared up among the highest rates of large perm-gas producers in the world first half of the year. The company burned around 7% of the gas it produced in the tank in the second quarter, down from 9% in the first quarter, according to Rystad Energy.
Shell's general manager for the Perm said the production has overtaken the construction of smaller pipelines to transport gas from the wells. Recent infrastructure investments, including operational changes, have helped reduce the company's flattening rate to 2.5% in July.
Less flaring is "not only good for the environment, it's also very good business," said Gerges.
An Oklahoma-based driller fired 10% of the Permian gas he produced in the first quarter, a council spokesman
"That's not the way we want to work," he said. He described insufficient infrastructure near wells to capture the gas. The company, whose flaring rate dropped to 6% in the second quarter, is building a facility to extract gas from nearby operations. The processing plant is scheduled to go live this month and connect to pipelines leaving the Perm, Swan said.
Torches illuminate the sky in Reeves County, southwest Texas, flames that are visible for miles as operators burn more gas there than anywhere else in the Permian. Venetta Seals, Mayor of the city of Pecos, which is heavily dependent on oil and gas, said it considers burning to be inevitable.
"What other options are there?" She asked. "Without the infrastructure here, the only other solution is, what, they stop drilling? That would certainly turn things upside down if that did not happen anymore."
-Christopher M. Matthews contributed to this article at.
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