Environmental Activists Target Flaring Of Natural Gas

This opinion piece presents the opinions of the author.
It does not necessarily reflect the views of Rigzone.

Flaring of natural gas has become a target of environmental activists, who have tried to use it as another weapon in their attempts to ban the use of fossil fuels in the future.

In fact, the Sierra Club, which claims on its web page to be the largest and most powerful environmental organization, says that natural gas drilling and production damages the land, pollutes water and air, and causes illness in surrounding communities.

“If we can’t drill safely, then we shouldn’t be drilling at all,” the Sierra Club warns in its program Moving Beyond Fossil Fuels and Beyond Natural Gas. “Natural gas production is environmentally damaging and harms public health.”

On Feb. 18 the San Antonio Express-News ran a story attempting to show that flaring of natural gas is excessive and harmful. 

However, the story – like allegations from the Sierra Club – picks only certain information that is frequently undocumented and lacks scientific credibility.

Natural gas producers do not want to flare gas. They have every reason – mainly financial – to sell it as soon as possible to increase cash flow. Oil and gas producers invest millions of dollars to drill and complete these high-tech wells. Their only source of income is from the product they sell. If they sell nothing by flaring gas, the receive nothing.  Yet, the story never mentions this critical point.

The story also fails to mention that flaring of gas is a regulated process that requires producers to obtain a permit.  Even though there are thousands of miles of natural gas pipelines in Texas, there are areas, such as South Texas, that do not have enough pipelines to gather all of the gas that is being produced with the crude oil. Oil and gas wells cannot be turned off and on like a water faucet. In most cases, the wells cannot stop production, because of possible permanent damage to the underground formation. 

The story went to great lengths to point out that their investigative reporting team “spent a year investigating the impact of flaring.” However, within that year they either did not find or they overlooked a study by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) stating that natural gas production has increased significantly since 2008 and methane emissions have declined by 20%.

The Texas Commission of Environmental Quality (TCEQ), which monitors air emissions in Texas, has stated numerous times that air emissions are below hazardous levels. Joel Anderson, Director of TCEQ San Antonio Region, states on TCEQ’s web page that TCEQ has done extensive monitoring in the Eagle Ford Shale area.

“We’ve had two contracted aerial surveys, as well as mobile monitoring,” he said. “We also utilize a lot of hand-held equipment for our air investigations where we send off canisters to the lab in Austin for analysis and to date there really hasn’t been any indication of health concerns associated with air quality in the Eagle Ford Shale.”

Again, no mention that TCEQ’s monitoring has not found any health concerns.

The gas industry wants to eliminate flaring of natural gas, too. It recognizes the environmental, safety and economic reasons. That is why a seminar will be held in San Antonio on Feb. 24 dealing with “Flaring Issues, Solutions and Technologies”. “The goal is to work with industry to develop and demonstrate cost effective technologies to monetize stranded gas and reduce or eliminate gas flaring and/or methane emissions associated with production,” the workshop description states.

The industry does not have all of the answers and it is still learning. It knows that it has a huge responsibility to provide consumers oil and natural gas in a safe, reliable and economical manner.

Alex Mills is President of the Texas Alliance of Energy Producers. 


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