Exposure to methane gas can displace oxygen supply, resulting in headaches, nausea, nosebleeds and even heart problems. (sammywilliams/Pixabay)

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By Roz Brown

October 10, 2022

Environmental advocates anticipating new rules from the Environmental Protection Agency to cut methane pollution caused by the oil and gas industry hope it means an end to routine flaring.

While the industry has maintained flaring is 98% effective at reducing methane, a new study showed the rate is actually closer to 91%.

Kayley Shoup, community organizer for Citizens Caring for the Future, said the findings came as no surprise. She lives on the New Mexico side of the Permian Basin and stressed the new data confirms what she has seen on the front lines.

“Because if you drive around the Permian and you see the flares that are burning, they’re kind of dirty with the smoke coming off of them,” Shoup observed. “And then you see that the common rate of efficiency that they think flares destroy methane is 98%, you go, ‘I don’t think that’s correct.’ “

Exposure to high levels of methane can result in numerous health issues. The report, from the Environmental Defense Fund and University of Michigan researchers, estimated the oil and gas industry releases 16 million metric tons of methane into the atmosphere each year.

Jon Goldstein, senior director of regulatory and legislative affairs for the Environmental Defense Fund, said 80% of the methane problem occurs in two states: North Dakota and Texas. He believes they need to follow the example of neighboring states and better control flaring.

“That is what is happening in states like New Mexico and Colorado that have put these rules in place,” Goldstein explained. “Rather than routing that gas to a flare to have it be burned off and cause pollution, they’re routing it to a sales line.”

The study found the practice of flaring is having five times more impact on pollution than previously thought. Shoup argued in addition to tougher regulations, follow-up is key.

“So, those solutions really require a lot of enforcement — and that just does not happen — the enforcement that’s needed to do that,” Shoup asserted. “I think it just underlines the importance of the EPA taking those strong steps.”

Proposed emissions guidelines EPA 11/02/2021
Pollution study Univ. of Mich. 09/30/2022