With all the news about the false controversy involving hydraulic fracturing, the Railroad Commission of Texas is pre-emptively addressing concerns about another important issue for the Texas oil and gas industry–natural gas flares. Commissioner David Porter announced that the Eagle Ford Task Force will study the issue of whether Texas’s regulations on flaring and ventilation need to be updated.
Gas flares are generally associated with a booming industry where the production is outstripping the infrastructure capacity, especially in terms of pipelines. In high producing areas, like the Eagle Ford Shale, drilling and first production is reached weeks before pipeline companies get natural gas infrastructure such as pipelines into the area. Oil can be moved by truck, but natural gas needs pipelines. In general, the use of gas flares as a safety valve is not used in an abusive fashion, because it is in the oil and gas companies’ interest not to waste gas. But Mr. Porter still wants to ensure that everyone is complying with the current regulations on flaring and venting.
This issue of gas flares is tied to the debate on hydraulic fracturing, as the Eagle Ford Task Force was also commissioned to look into issues of how hydraulic fracturing affects groundwater. The Task Force is branching into this new area, with its main concern being the effect of gas flares on air quality. At Eagle Ford, there is concern that the San Antonio metro might exceed federal limits on ozone emission standards. The Texas Railroad Commission intends to work with other state agencies to streamline the air pollution rules in Texas and also to make monitoring and reporting on air emissions easier.
Commissioner Porter reported that state regulators and executives are working together to find environmentally sound solutions for gas flares. There are plans to increase the use of natural gas generators at these locations, which can power electric machinery and reduce flaring at the same time. The Commissioner points out that any updates to the regulations will reflect the increasing amount of production of gas from unconventional resources in shale. Mr. Porter also says that the industry should focus on new gas flare technology that promotes energy saving and also protects the environment.
The Commissioner specifically does not want a media campaign of misinformation to treat this issue like the fracing issue-where everyone thinks they know what they are talking about, but do not. Unfortunately, with fracing, the media provides a lot of incorrect information to the public. Fracing has become such a political minefield that politics has often overshadowed, and overruled, scientific evidence in the court of public opinion.
Mr. Porter noted, “We must proactively address flaring with fair, predictable, commonsense regulations based on science and fact. If we don’t, we can expect the anti-fossil fuel folks, including the EPA, to once again attempt to curtail oil and gas production in our state by using politically motivated rulemaking to implement their political agenda.”
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