Railroad Commission Take Major Step to Address Oil and Gas Flaring
Wednesday, August 5, 2020
Railroad Commission of Texas ("RCC") commissioners voted on August 4 to approve draft changes to the Application for Exception to Statewide Rule 32. The changes play a large role in ongoing efforts at the Commission to reduce the amount of flaring in the oil and gas industry in the state.
During the agency's meeting, Railroad Commission staff also discussed a recent positive trend that has been occurring with the rate of flaring. While the amount of gas produced in Texas declined by 13 percent from June 2019 to May 2020, the portion of produced gas that was flared dropped even more sharply by 79% during that same time period. Staff will continue analyzing flaring trends in the coming months.
There are several proposed modifications to the Statewide Rule 32 application, which include, but are not limited to the following:
- The period of time for which an operator may obtain an administrative exception to flare gas will be reduced in many cases. For certain exceptions, the duration may be reduced by 50% to 80%.
- Provide incentives for operators to use technologies to reduce the amount of gas flared.
- Operators must provide more specific information to justify the need to flare or vent gas in accordance with Commission rules.
- Flares would be related to specific production properties to facilitate compliance with reported production.
Tracking the new information and data points will be valuable in any future efforts to tailor policy that addresses flaring.
“Today, we took an important first step in ensuring we have the data necessary to get an accurate view of the scope of flaring in Texas,” said Chairman Wayne Christian. “Since the downturn, the rate of flaring has gone down with more than 99.5 percent of the gas produced in the month of May sold and beneficially used to generate electricity, cook dinner, or make hundreds of consumer products. Now is the opportune time to implement meaningful recommendations to reduce flaring before oil and gas production climbs back to previous highs.”
“I sincerely appreciate the hard work that has gone into making these significant changes and look forward to receiving feedback during the public comment period,” said Commissioner Christi Craddick. “I am pleased with the progress we are making toward significant flaring reductions in Texas. The comprehensive IT upgrade will continue to be a priority of the Commission to ensure the availability of reliable and transparent data.”
“Flaring is a byproduct of production, but that doesn’t mean it’s not an issue that’s worth examining more closely,” said Commissioner Ryan Sitton. “That’s why I undertook the first systematic study of flaring in Texas and how our volumes compare with other major energy producers. I’m glad the Railroad Commission of Texas is stepping up and continuing to lead.”
The proposed changes include RRC staff’s analysis of a Blue Ribbon Task Force report on best practices to reduce flaring.
The draft changes are open for a 30-day comment period and can be found on the RRC website at: https://rrc.texas.gov/about-us/resource-center/forms/proposed-form-changes/. Commissioners will need to approve a final version of the form at a future meeting before it goes into effect.
More actions are in the works to aid RRC’s work on flaring. The agency is working to improve reporting to get a better picture of how much gas is flared or vented and the specific reasons for doing so.
The agency is also developing an integrated online system that will allow flaring information from different types of users, such as inspectors in the field or technical specialists in Austin, to be accessible in one place.
Oil and gas production is a critical industry that fuels our lives and provides us with many everyday products that we depend upon, and has helped recent energy independence for the United States.
Methane emissions related to the extraction of crude oil and natural gas have gone down by 23 percent since 1990, according to the EPA’s 2020 Inventory of U.S. Greenhouse Gas Emissions and Sinks.
And, despite considerable growth in the Texas oil and gas industry between 2003-2018, the EPA’s 2018 Toxics Release Inventory, published in 2020, shows a 42 percent drop in the release of toxic air chemicals over the same period in the state.