Flaring, Infrastructure and Embracing the Dual Challenge
Posted August 8, 2019
Too often the nation’s energy needs and the quest for climate progress get pitted against each other in a game where ultimately there are lots of losers. It shouldn’t be that way.
Our country needs abundant energy AND climate progress – both of them, continuing to advance together, as they have in the U.S. in recent years. Embracing the dual challenge of making energy abundant and accessible while reducing energy-related emissions is the realistic path to growth and opportunity that can broadly benefit the nation and the lives of individual Americans. Exxon Mobil’s Darren Woods:
“All of us share the same aspirations, to live in a world that is clean and safe and prosperous. A place where our children can grow up looking forward to healthy and happy lives with higher standards of living. Affordable energy plays an important role in achieving this.
“I believe the assumption that affordable energy and a cleaner environment are a zero-sum game is mistaken. It underestimates the power of technology. The zero-sum view is a static one, and the world of energy is anything but static. All things being equal, this view is understandable. But technology changes the equation. It makes a dream – growing the economy while reducing emissions – a reality.”
Certainly, our industry is focused on new innovations and technologies that continue to reduce emissions from natural gas and oil production and improve the environmental performance of our operations and facilities.
Industry initiatives such as The Environmental Partnership have zeroed in on key sources of methane emissions in production – expanding progress that has seen emissions relative to production plummet while natural gas and oil output soared. Our industry is highly motivated to capture as much methane as possible. It’s our product and our business, and it’s also one of the most important ways we can help achieve climate goals.
The objective is continued progress. High-production areas, including the Permian Basin in Texas and New Mexico and the Bakken in North Dakota and Montana, need additional pipeline infrastructure to take away natural gas when it accompanies oil production. More infrastructure could reduce the amount of flaring – regulated, limited burning of methane – that takes place.
Wayne Christian, chairman of the Texas Railroad Commission, which regulates natural gas and oil activity in that state, writes in USA Today that companies in Texas are building thousands of miles of new pipelines and that the need for flaring decreased from 3.5% of excess natural gas in March 2014 to 3.1% in March this year – even as production increased. At the same time, Christian writes, flaring is safer for the environment, producing less pollution, than if the methane is simply vented into the air. Christian:
The shale revolution benefits every American, and flaring is a part of the process. As pipeline capacity grows and the oil and gas industry continues to innovate, flaring may someday be a thing of the past. Until then, we will ensure it is done safely and responsibly.
Now, contrast the controlled, limited approach to flaring with the suggestion that natural gas and oil companies flare simply because they can, as in a recent USA Today editorial. It’s a ridiculous notion, at odds with industry investments in research and innovation and the commitment of our workers to keep reducing methane emissions while supplying the energy to keep our modern economy running.
So, let’s build more infrastructure, and let’s keep innovating and developing technologies that reduce emissions and flaring. Let’s work toward solutions – it’s hard listening to flaring complaints from some of the same folks who oppose infrastructure – and let’s recognize that we can make climate progress while developing energy and growing the economy.
About The Author
Mark Green joined API after a career in newspaper journalism, including 16 years as national editorial writer for The Oklahoman in the paper’s Washington bureau. Previously, Mark was a reporter, copy editor and sports editor at an assortment of newspapers. He earned his journalism degree from the University of Oklahoma and master’s in journalism and public affairs from American University. He and his wife Pamela have two grown children and six grandchildren.