Many Permian producers drill primarily for oil, not natural gas, so they simply fire off much of the gas that is alongside the oil because they feel it is not worth the hassle or cost to get and sell is. The accuracy of the flare volume data reported by the operators themselves was difficult to assess.
Methane emissions from oil and gas infrastructure are also likely to be grossly underestimated, as studies have shown, further undermining gas’s advantage over dirty burning coal in the fight against climate change. Methane, the main component of natural gas, is about 20 times as powerful as carbon dioxide when it warms the atmosphere. However, all of this makes reducing emissions from oil and gas production potentially one of the fastest and cheapest ways to slow the rate of global warming, scientists say.
The Biden government has made the fight against flaring and venting, as well as methane leaks, a priority. One of President Biden’s first executive orders was to reintroduce and expand regulations that the Trump administration had reversed.
Senate Democrats also plan to use an obscure piece of legislation to reinstate the Obama-era methane rules. Senate Democrats have also tabled a bill that would impose a charge on methane emissions from oil and gas production, which also urges companies to avoid venting and flaring.
“What is unacceptable 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 were their landfill,” said Senator Sheldon Whitehouse of Rhode Island, one of the bill’s sponsors, in an interview.
A separate study of emissions trends during the coronavirus pandemic by scientists from the Environmental Defense Fund, Harvard University, and other research institutions, to be published in the coming weeks in the journal Atmospheric Chemistry and Physics, shows that there is even a relatively small decline in production could lead to significant emissions reductions.
The researchers, who measured methane emissions using ground, air and satellite measurements, found that a 10 percent slowdown in perm production during the pandemic resulted in a far greater 60 percent drop in emissions.