West Texas – Like the tens of thousands of oil and gas businesses dispersed throughout the oil-rich Permian Basin, the Mako Compressor Station outside the dusty West Texas crossroads of Lenorah appears inconspicuous to the untrained eye.
The invisible gas plume, mostly methane, rising into the clear blue sky from the sparkling white storage tanks is concealed by the chain-link fence.
Methane, an incredibly potent greenhouse gas, was seen being released into the atmosphere at the Mako station, which is owned by a division of West Texas Gas Inc. That has a similar effect on the environment as burning seven tanker trucks’ worth of fuel each day.
But Mako’s excessive emissions are neither illegal nor subject to regulation. It was also just one of 533 “super emitters” of methane found in the Permian in a 2021 aerial survey by Carbon Mapper, a collaboration between academics and NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory.
The researchers found that the Permian, a 250-mile-wide bone-dry region along the Texas-New Mexico border that was once the bottom of a shallow sea, was releasing enormous amounts of methane into the atmosphere from oil and gas operations. Hundreds of the locations could be observed repeatedly releasing the gas. ongoing leaks and gushers that are not corrected.
“The same websites are operating year after year. Riley Duren, a research scientist at the University of Arizona who oversees Carbon Mapper, noted that it goes beyond month to month or season to season. Only the GPS coordinates of the spewing sites allowed Carbon Mapper to identify them. In order to identify the companies most likely to be at fault, the Associated Press used the coordinates of the 533 “super-emitting” locations to cross-reference them with state drilling permits,
According to an AP study of Carbon Mapper’s data, only 10 corporations owned at least 164 of those sites. 11 belonged to West Texas Gas.
These corporations’ methane emissions will continue to affect the climate for decades, causing more heat waves, hurricanes, wildfires, and floods. Methane is presently present in the atmosphere almost three times as much as it was before the industrial era. The worst single increase ever occurred in 2021.
Over a 20-year period, methane’s ability to warm the planet is approximately 83 times greater than that of carbon dioxide from vehicle exhaust and power plant smokestacks. In general, attempts to regulate the invisible gas by Congress and the Environmental Protection Agency have failed. This means that reducing methane emissions independently must be done by oil and gas producers, some of which are the very businesses that have been battling controls.
Due to their sporadic nature, methane emissions are notoriously challenging to measure. Methane may be released from an ancient well one day, but not the next.
With a FLIR infrared camera, however, AP journalists visited more than two dozen locations identified by Carbon Mapper as persistent methane super emitters in October . Many of the worst emitters are steadily adding this extra gas to the Earth’s atmosphere, according to the Carbon Mapper data and the AP’s camera work.
The AP also noticed a sizable plume of gas erupting from tanks at a WTG compressor station about 15 miles distant in the Sale Ranch oil field in addition to the Mako site of West Texas Gas. The average hourly emissions from that location, according to Carbon Mapper, were around 410 kilogrammes of methane.
The AP discovered that Targa Resources, a Houston-based natural gas storage, processing, and distribution company, was the closest operator to 30 sites that were releasing a total of 3,000 kilogrammes of methane per hour from pipelines, wells, tanks, and compressor stations all over the company’s vast Texas footprint.
At properties controlled by Navitas Midstream, a pipeline firm situated north of Houston that was later acquired by Enterprise Products Partners, another 21 super-emitting sources were discovered. An estimated 3,525 kilos of methane per hour were being released by Navitas equipment as a whole.
wasting a product with potential
The fact that the very substance that the operators are labouring to remove is being wasted is one of the peculiar aspects of this type of climate pollution. Methane gas is the target gas that drillers seek out, refine, and sell all over the world; it is not a waste product.
But the Permian Basin’s ever-expanding labyrinth of pipes is unable to collect and transmit the vast quantities of natural gas that fracking has released from its shale formations. Because of this, even though billions have been spent building new terminals around the Gulf Coast to export the surplus of American gas to foreign markets, natural gas is still frequently burned off.
Companies claim they are doing better, though.
The former Navitas assets are owned by Houston-based Enterprise Products, which announced it was tightening regulations. According to spokesman Rick Rainey, “We are in the process of integrating the purchased assets and are dedicated to ensuring they are operated properly and responsibly.”
Regarding the steps the business would take to lower methane emissions, he did not specifically respond to any queries.
West Texas Gas, based in Midland, said in a statement that it regularly conducts its own overflights with gas detection equipment and that nine of the super emitting sites that AP inquired about, including Mako, have either been “repaired or updated” within the last six months. The business declined to say exactly what changes were made and when, other than to say that it was “actively addressing” another site. WTG claimed to have checked the previous site but found no leak.
In order to make sure that we operate in a way that is compatible with this objective, West Texas Gas continuously strengthens corporate systems and procedures, according to a statement.
Decades of Inactivity
Obama’s Climate Action Plan, unveiled in May 2016, contained new federal regulations requiring the oil and gas industry to reduce methane emissions by 40 percent by 2025. But before they went into force, President Donald Trump, who scoffed at climate change as a Chinese invention, revoked those policies.
The industry gave to Trump’s campaign due of his steadfast support for fossil fuels and rejection of climate change. Additionally, it helped him gain a lot of support in the Republican-dominated cities and villages of the Permian, where extracting oil and gas is seen as both a life necessity and a natural right.
One day last fall, during lunchtime, the parking lot at Big John’s Feedlot, a burger and barbecue joint in Big Spring, was crowded with gas-guzzling American pickup trucks. Inside, visitors enjoy beef ribs covered in sauce and krack poppers, a house specialty of cream cheese-stuffed peppers wrapped in bacon, as well as paintings of John Wayne and a mounted deer wearing a cowboy hat.
Owner Brenda Stansel quipped, “Can you see anyone in here driving an electric car,” maintaining that Trump was still the legitimately elected president.
On his first day in office, President Joe Biden directed the EPA to draught new regulations to cut the methane emissions from the oil and gas sector. He also reinstated some Obama-era limitations on methane emissions from newly constructed oil and gas facilities. It is currently being decided whether to adopt proposed regulations to regulate emissions from the hundreds of thousands of existing installations.
The need to reduce methane emissions is critical, according to Tomás Carbonell, the EPA’s deputy assistant administrator for stationary sources.
The administration and EPA place a high premium on reducing air pollutants from the oil and natural gas sector, according to Carbonell. He continued, pointing out that methane “helps drive impacts that people around the country are currently experiencing on a daily basis, including heat waves, wildfires, and sea level rise.”
The American government keeps a record of the amount of methane released into the atmosphere in order to monitor the issue. These numbers are used by scientists and decision-makers to estimate how much the earth will warm over the next few decades.
However, AP discovered that the government database frequently fails to take into account the actual rate of emissions seen in the Permian.
Companies must report emissions to the EPA’s Greenhouse Gas Reporting Program if they exceed 25,000 tonnes of carbon dioxide annually. Only a small number of Permian sites claim to have methane levels that are higher than that. However, according to AP’s analysis, over 140 of the Carbon Mapper-identified super-emitting sites were on course to exceed the reporting threshold.
For instance, during the course of the four measurements, Carbon Mapper calculated that Mako emitted an average of 870 kilogrammes of methane every hour. That would be 7.6 times the federal reporting standard over the course of a year.
The West Texas Gas company that runs Mako indicated that in 2020, the most recent year for which data is available, methane emissions from all of its boosting and gathering operations combined were only a sixth of what Carbon Mapper had observed blowing from the Mako facility alone.
Even after being corrected to account for overflights when no emissions were detected, other businesses likewise reported methane emissions at levels considerably lower than what the aircraft of Carbon Mapper’s company observed.
For a year of operations in the Permian Basin, Devon Energy reported producing methane equivalent to 42,000 metric tonnes of CO2. According to AP’s research utilising the emissions that have been found, they would probably spew that much in just 46 days.
If Lucid Energy Group’s measured emissions persisted unchecked, in just three months the company would produce more emissions than it reported to EPA.
According to a Devon representative, the business is dedicated to lowering its methane emissions and being open about its efforts. In order for oil and gas businesses to disclose methane, the corporation has joined a U.N. cooperation.
According to Duren, this estimating technique has been applied in numerous earlier peer-reviewed research and is a well-known and standard procedure with emissions monitoring systems.
Even while Vaquero Permian Gathering claimed the company as a whole was generating methane at a rate of 19,000 metric tonnes of CO2, AP discovered that just one Vaquero facility was doing so at a rate of 53,000 tonnes annually.
A representative for Vaquero stated that the business had nothing else to add.
Although the Clean Air Act requires businesses to report greenhouse gas emissions accurately, the EPA was unable to give AP even one instance of a polluter being punished or cited for underreporting or failing to disclose, as required by law.