The wasteful practice of burning away gas has long been a problem in the oilfield. Data shows that companies in the Permian Basin burned away at least 275 billion cubic feet of methane last year—that’s enough gas to serve nearly 5 million homes for a year.While this waste problem has been well documented, much less has been known about methane emissions from flares.EDF has now conducted three surveys of hundreds of flare stacks across the basin, from February to June 2020, which reveal methane emissions from flaring are a significant and widespread problem. In each survey, we found that 11% of flares were either unlit—venting completely uncombusted methane—or burning only part of the gas they were releasing.Although there was a large decrease in the volume of gas flared in late spring, due to the drop in production, there was no change in observed flare performance. The Environmental Protection Agency assumes companies flare gas at a 98% efficiency rate. Our surveys suggest the average in the basin falls well short of this. We estimate at least 7% of Permian gas sent to flares is escaping directly into the atmosphere. This means companies are emitting 3.5 times more methane than what EPA assumes.At this rate, flaring can now be considered one of the largest sources of methane emissions in the Permian basin.Our surveys indicate that in order to reduce emissions across the basin, flaring must be reduced to the lowest levels possible. With flaring volumes starting to increase again, there is an urgency to address flaring now.
FLARING SURVEY FINDINGS
Aerial surveys conducted between February and June 2020
25 percent of malfunctioning flares had recurring emissions problems in both surveys
of flares surveyed
flares that were
TOTAL METRIC TONS OF METHANE EMISSIONS FROM FLARING Assessment is current as of March 2020
*EPA assumes functioning flares have 98% flaring efficiency rate
PermianMAP is an initiative of Environmental Defense Fund, a leading international nonprofit organization. EDF links science, economics, law and innovative private-sector partnerships to create transformational solutions to the most serious environmental problems.