Many producers in the Permian drill primarily for oil, not natural gas, and therefore simply flare off much of the gas that comes up alongside the oil because they deem it not worth the effort or expense to capture and sell. And the accuracy of flare volume data, which is self-reported by operators, has been difficult to assess.
Methane emissions from oil and gas infrastructure are also likely vastly underestimated, studies have shown, further eroding gas’s advantage over dirtier-burning coal in the fight against climate change. Methane, the main component in natural gas, is some 20 times as powerful as carbon dioxide in warming the atmosphere. However, all of this also makes reducing emissions from oil and gas production potentially one of the fastest and most cost-effective ways to slow the rate of global warming, scientists say.
The Biden administration has made addressing flaring and venting, as well as methane leaks, a priority. One of President Biden’s first executive orders committed to reinstating and expanding regulations that the Trump administration had moved to roll back.
Senate Democrats also plan to use an obscure legislative measure to reinstate Obama-era methane rules. Senate Democrats have also introduced a bill that would impose a fee on methane emissions from oil and gas production that also presses companies to eliminate venting and flaring.
“What’s not acceptable is to continue to allow this industry to dump millions of cubic feet of toxic natural gas into our atmosphere for free, as if it was their dump,” Senator Sheldon Whitehouse of Rhode Island, one of the bill’s sponsors, said in an interview.
A separate study on emissions trends during the coronavirus pandemic by scientists at the Environmental Defense Fund, Harvard University, and other research institutions, to be published in the journal Atmospheric Chemistry and Physics in the coming weeks, shows how even a relatively small decline in production could yield substantial emissions reductions.
The researchers, who measured methane emissions using ground, aerial and satellite measurements, found that a 10 percent slowdown in Permian production during the pandemic resulted in a far bigger, 60 percent drop in emissions.