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Between 69 and 84 percent of observed methane gas flares in Texas were unpermitted, environmental group Earthworks said in a report published on Thursday, which says the Railroad Commission of Texas "systemically fails to regulate flaring."
For the report, Earthworks compared RRC's flare permitting database against 227 flares directly observed and recorded during helicopter flyovers with optical gas imaging cameras. The cross-reference showed that 69-84 percent of observed flares did not have required flaring permits, Earthworks says in the report, which is endorsed by Environment Texas and the Sierra Club Lone Star Chapter.
The report notes that an unpermitted flare is a flare the RRC does not know exists. Therefore, state regulators don't know how much gas was flared, nor how much pollution was emitted, which makes accurate decisions impossible, according to Earthworks.
"As the world's climate scientists tell us we need to cut methane pollution to avoid climate catastrophe, Texas regulators can't even be bothered to track methane flaring," report lead author and Earthworks' Texas Field Analyst Jack McDonald said in a statement.
Big Oil, including Shell and Exxon, are also found to have been among the violators.
"Shell and Exxon, both of which have made prominent climate commitments and called for stronger federal oversight of oil and gas air pollution, were among the violators: Shell did not have a permit for any of its observed flares; Exxon only had permits for two flares," the authors of the report wrote.
Speaking to Reuters, both companies dismissed the key headline-grabbing findings, with a Shell spokesperson saying it had not "routinely flared in the Permian Basin" since 2018, and Exxon's spokesperson Julie King saying its Permian Basin flaring is at a "record low of less than 1%."
"There are flaws in Earthworks' analysis. The conclusion of the report is based on incomplete data or inaccurate assumptions," RRC spokesman Andrew Keese told Reuters.
By Charles Kennedy for Oilprice.com
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Charles is a writer for Oilprice.com