Natural gas flaring in Eagle Ford Shale already surpasses 2012 levels of waste and pollution

Energy Associated Press

Gas flaring in the most profitable shale field in the U.S. is on pace to surpass to 2013 levels of waste and pollution in South Texas, according to a newspaper analysis of state records published Sunday.

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The Eagle Ford Shale burned off more than 20 billion cubic feet of natural gas in the first seven months of this year, according to the Railroad Commission of Texas, which oversees the oil and gas industry. The tons of pollutants released into the air already exceed levels for 2012.

Experts say plummeting oil prices likely won't stifle Eagle Ford production anytime soon.

The San Antonio Express-News (http://bit.ly/1ATJFNW ) also found some of the top sources of flaring in 2014 lacked state-mandated permits to flare natural gas. The goal of flaring is to incinerate impurities, but it generates air pollution and carbon dioxide, a greenhouse gas that scientists say contributes to climate change.

Railroad Commission spokeswoman Ramona Nye said Friday that the agency sent violation notices to three energy companies after the newspaper asked about their permitting status.

"The commission expects all operators to fully comply with all commission rules including our flaring rules," Nye said. She said violators could be fined or blocked from selling their oil, and added that nearly 300 other warning letters have been sent in the past five months to bring other companies into compliance.

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Oil and gas companies say they don't want to flare but have little choice. At one lease in La Salle and Frio counties near the town of Dilley, Goodrich Petroleum flared more than 430 million cubic feet of gas — about a fourth of its production, making it one of the top sources of flaring in 2014.

Company spokesman Daniel Jenkins told the newspaper that gas pipelines at the ranch can't handle all the production.

"We have no desire to flare gas," Jenkins said. "But unfortunately, we are constrained by circumstances in the midstream infrastructure that's in place — or not in place."

Texas regulators have blamed the cheap price of natural gas for the spike in flaring, and said the plummeting cost of the fossil fuel in recent years hampered pipeline construction.

Environmental watchdogs say the rising pace of flaring is predictable.

"Texas regulators have a long history of promising reductions that don't materialize because the growth in the number of rigs is outstripping the number of pipelines being built," said Tom Smith, state director of the consumer watchdog group Public Citizen.

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Information from: San Antonio Express-News, http://www.mysanantonio.com