Dec 9, 2019

A not-so-good milestone for natural gas

Ben Geman, author of Generate
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Data: U.S. Energy Information Administration; Chart: Danielle Alberti/Axios

A record amount of U.S. natural gas was released or burned at oil-and-gas well sites last year, EIA data shows.

Why it matters: The report Friday on venting and flaring is latest sign of the oil industry's struggle to rein in climate-warming gases as U.S. oil production surges.

  • Venting releases the powerful GHG methane, while flaring (or burning) produces CO2 emissions and also allows some methane escape.

What they found: Venting and flaring combined averaged a record 1.28 billion cubic feet per day in 2018.

  • "[T]he percentage of U.S. natural gas that was vented and flared increased to 1.25% of gross withdrawals, up from 0.84% the previous year," EIA said.
  • North Dakota and Texas accounted for the lion's share.

Where it stands: Oil wells in North Dakota and Texas, the heart of the U.S. boom, produce "associated" gas volumes that producers are sometimes unable to capture.

  • EIA notes that the crude oil boom has "outpaced the buildout of infrastructure to handle natural gas."
  • The flaring problem is the worst in North Dakota, where 17% of gross gas withdrawals are burned, per EIA.

What they're saying: The increase in Texas and North Dakota is "pretty shocking," per Daniel Raimi, an energy expert with the think tank Resources for the Future.

  • "It's also probably an underestimate of the problem. This has major local and global environmental impacts. Policymakers and industry can do better," he said on Twitter.

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