Unburned methane released from oil and gas flaring operations is five times greater than EPA estimates, a new study in Science finds. This is at least the third study this year finding EPA is undercounting methane pollution. Methane, the main ingredient in so-called “natural gas,” is an extremely potent greenhouse gas, trapping more than 80 times more heat in the atmosphere than CO2 over a 20-year period and is responsible for about 30% of global temperature increases over the last century.
Researchers assessed about 300 flares across the Permian and Eagle Ford fields (Texas and New Mexico) and the Bakken field (North Dakota and Montana) which together account for 80% of U.S. oil and gas extraction. While the EPA assumes flaring efficiency to 98%, the researchers found the actual efficiency is approximately 91%. That faulty EPA estimate, according to the study, means the equivalent of an extra 9 million cars-worth of climate pollution is being emitted every year, but not reflected in EPA pollution figures.
Oil drillers “flare” (burn off) leaking methane gas to convert it to less-heat-trapping CO2, but when that combustion is incomplete, unburned methane is released directly into the air. Methane pollution, especially from oil and gas operations, especially in the Permian Basin, and especially from operations owned by private equity firms, is increasing — as is its prominence in global efforts to address the climate crisis. (Wall Street Journal $)