Permian Kept Spewing Methane Despite Drilling Slowdown, EDF Says

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A sharp drilling slowdown in the Permian Basin last year failed to improve the shale play’s record on methane emissions, according to a report by the Environmental Defense Fund.

One in 10 flare sites either malfunctioned or were unlit, releasing methane directly into the air, four aerial surveys of 1,200 sites carried out at different times of the year by the environmental group show.

While flaring is a polluting practice, its failure is even worse because methane is a more potent greenhouse gas than the carbon dioxide that’s released when natural gas is burned. The EDF report comes as Texas regulators appear to be taking a tougher approach against flaring after growing pressure from environmental groups and investors.

“This year of data makes it painfully clear that flaring performance has remained abysmal through the industry’s highs and lows,” Colin Leyden, EDF’s director of regulatory and legislative affairs for Texas, said in a statement. “The science is clear that flaring cannot be an afterthought.”

Permian Kept Spewing Methane Despite Drilling Slowdown, EDF Says

In a year in which the number of drilling rigs operating in the Permian fell by more than half due to a price war and then the coronavirus, EDF said the report highlighted operators’ inability to manage flaring.

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In each of the surveys, about 5% of flares were unlit and venting methane directly into the atmosphere while another 5% were malfunctioning and only partially lit, EDF said. Of the malfunctioning flares observed, over half had repeat failures and about a quarter never worked properly at all, the report showed.

The report was released on the same day that the Texas Methane & Flaring Coalition, a group representing seven industry trade associations and 40 operators, vowed to eliminate routine flaring by 2030.

Routine flaring refers to burning off unwanted gas when it isn’t necessitated by pipeline malfunctions or other short-term events.

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