AUSTIN -- Saying proposed changes to state flaring regulations will do little to curb pollution, a group of legislators and advocates called on the state’s oil and gas regulator to go back to the drawing board and develop a plan to end routine flaring. Even as the Commissioners took up the modest proposal at this morning’s Railroad Commission open meeting, Commissioners were expected to approve another 59 “exceptions” on their consent agenda allowing oil and gas operators to be able to flare and vent.
The Railroad Commission of Texas’ proposal would increase the information used to make decisions on flaring and provide small limits on some of the permits, a far cry from what critics say is needed to address the environmental and health consequences of the practice including air and climate pollution, premature births, and a gross waste of natural resources.
“The proposal is riddled with loopholes and falls far short of where we need to go,” said Emma Pabst, global warming solutions advocate with Environment Texas. “We need changes that forbid long-term flaring permits, instead of just pushing them into the Commission’s hearing division. Most importantly, we need a plan to end routine flaring by 2025, and we need it now.”
In the last seven years, the Commission has granted operators more than 27,000 permits to flare - resulting in the burning of nearly 1 trillion cubic feet of gas. Surveys have shown that flaring rates in Texas are twice that of neighboring New Mexico, where the state’s Oil Conservation Commission has proposed achieving an industry wide rate of gas capture rate of 98%. In contrast, the RRC’s new proposal makes small changes, requiring companies to list the location of individual flares and in some circumstances limiting the duration of administrative flaring exceptions to 90 days, instead of 180. Texas companies will still have the opportunity to seek a hearing to extend the duration of flaring well past 90 or 180 days.
“Rather than opening up the rule itself to set tough new restrictions and limits on flaring and venting, the Commission is taking a half-step to improve data collection and documentation,” said Cyrus Reed, Conservation Director of the Lone Star Chapter of the Sierra Club. “While better data is an improvement, Texas should do what other states like New Mexico have done and start a true rulemaking process at both the RRC and the TCEQ to reduce overall flaring, venting and methane pollution that is hurting our lungs and cooking our planet.”
Several members of the Texas Legislature submitted a joint comment letter in response to the proposal, urging the Commission to develop a plan to end flaring in Texas. In anticipation of Wednesday’s meeting, the Texas House Democratic Caucus Special Committee on Clean Air, Clean Water, and Climate Change released the following statement:
“We hope that the Texas Railroad Commission will take a stronger stance in curbing routine flaring and stop accommodating industry. Drilling companies are choosing to flare natural gas because it is cheaper to waste the State’s natural resources instead of adjusting their business model to utilize them all. No natural resource should be wasted. Because of these practices, the State is missing out on a viable revenue source, and everyday Texans are paying the price in the form of worse health outcomes for nearby communities and greater greenhouse gas emissions.”
A September poll by Data for Progress found that Texas voters support flaring restrictions by a 21-point margin when provided with arguments for and against restrictions.
Last Tuesday, a multinational French energy utility, Engie, dropped negotiations on a $7 billion, 20-year contract to import fracked gas from Rio Grande LNG terminal in Brownsville. The decision follows concerns from the French government regarding flaring and methane emissions from Texas oil and gas operations.
The full-text of the proposal can be found on the Commission’s website. More information about flaring and venting is available in Environment Texas Research and Policy Center’s 2020 report “A Cleaner Path for Oil in Texas.”
Environment Texas Research & Policy Center is dedicated to protecting our air, water and open spaces. We work to protect the places we love, advance the environmental values we share, and win real results for our environment. For more information, visit www.environmenttexascenter.org.