In case you missed it, Railroad Commission of Texas Chairman Wayne Christian authored an op-ed in the Dallas Morning News on August 7, 2020 outlining steps the RRC and industry are taking to reduce flaring and ultimately end routine flaring. Included in the RRC’s proposal on flaring were recommendations made by the Texas Methane and Flaring Commission to Chairman Christian’s Blue Ribbon Task Force. The original op-ed can be found here.
Texas oil regulator: Now is the time to reduce flaring before the next oil boom
Let’s use this pause in oil production to implement better rules and technology on natural gas flaring.
By Wayne Christian
Aug 7, 2020
Over the past several months, the foundations of the Texas economy have been rattled. Jobs have been lost, some businesses have closed and many people worry about their future. In the oil patch, demand destruction and a poorly timed feud between Saudi Arabia and Russia have decimated our state’s once-thriving oil and gas industry.
Prior to COVID-19, the U.S. was nearly energy independent and was the top producer of oil and natural gas in the world. Texas was responsible for more than 40% of crude oil production and 25% of natural gas production in the country, supporting more than 350,000 well-paying jobs and providing over $116 billion in royalties and taxes from 2010-19 to fund government services like education, roads and public safety.
To ensure our state’s industry lived to fight another day, the Railroad Commission of Texas, the agency I chair that regulates the oil and natural gas industry, quickly implemented recommendations provided by the commission’s Blue Ribbon Task Force on Oil Recovery to offer regulatory relief while maintaining health, safety and environmental protections.
Environmental extremists have attacked these efforts to help the oil and gas industry and its many blue-collar workers, even recently suing the commission in state court. They are attempting to advance their radical goal of eliminating the domestic production of fossil fuels.
The truth is technological innovation, not radical bans on fossil fuels, have led to an increased production of energy at a lower cost to both our pocketbooks and the environment. From 1970 to 2017, the six major pollutants monitored by the EPA plunged by 73%, while the U.S. economy grew 262% and its population by 60%.
While things are not nearly as bleak as you would assume from some media reports, there is always room for improvement. The commission, Texas oil and gas operators, and a variety of stakeholders agree that we can further clean up the environment in Texas by taking steps to reduce flaring and methane emissions. That is why I asked the Blue Ribbon Task Force to continue their work by recommending ways our agency can reduce or eliminate flaring without crippling our oil and gas industry.
Flaring is the practice of burning the natural gas that is a byproduct of oil production, and it’s a common approach in fields that lack pipelines to carry the natural gas to market.
First, it’s important to remember that the rate of flaring — the percentage of gas flared compared to the amount of gas produced — is already going down. In June 2019, the rate of flaring from oil and gas wells was 2.27%. In May, only 0.47% of gas in Texas was flared. This means that more than 99.5 percent of the gas produced in Texas in May 2020 was sold, processed, transported and used to generate electricity, cook dinner or make consumer products.
The rate of flaring, also known has flaring intensity, in Texas is actually lower than most other oil-producing countries. Nonetheless, we have a responsibility to lead, especially as the nation’s No. 1 producer of oil and gas. With the rate of flaring the lowest it has been in years, now is the opportune time to implement meaningful recommendations to reduce flaring before oil and gas production climbs back to previous highs.
In June, we heard recommendations from our Blue Ribbon Task Force and leaders of our state’s major environmental groups on how our agency can address flaring. This fall, we will begin implementing many of these suggestions, starting with improving the way we collect data to ensure we have a clearer picture of the scope and leading causes of flaring in the state.
There is a lot of uncertainty in the world right now because of COVID-19. However, there is one thing you can count on: Once this pandemic subsides, Texas will return as a dominant force in global energy production, and this return to dominance will occur with a lot less fire in the sky.
Wayne Christian is chairman of the Texas Railroad Commission, which regulates oil and gas production. He wrote this column for The Dallas Morning News.