More about Natural Gas Flaring

On 2/19/20, the Houston Chronicle reported that Ryan Sitton, one of the members of the Texas Railroad Commission, had issued a report concerning the burning of natural gas from oil wells.  Interestingly, Sitton, a Republican, issued the report separately from the agency and without the joinder of the other two commissioners.  According to Sitton, his “report” is not political, but he was up for re-election and had two opponents. 

According to Sitton’s report, it is improper to just consider that gas flaring volume is at record high levels.  He suggests that the amount of oil produced should also be considered.  In other words, Sitton is taking the position that flaring is inevitable and acceptable, and that we should only be concerned about if the flaring is excessive in comparison to the amount of oil produced. 

Oil companies burned an estimated 650 million cubic feet of gas per day in 2018 – more 

than double the 268 mcf per day reported in 2017. 

Needless to say, the oil companies, the Texas Oil & Gas Association and the Texas Independent Producers & Royalty Owners Association endorsed the report. 

On the other hand, Sitton’s report was condemned by environmental groups and by Gunnar Schade, an associate professor of atmospheric sciences at TAMU.  Schade is quoted in the Texas Tribune of 2/25/20.  Schade said:  “It’s not a report.  It looks more like a political manifest0 to me because it relies so heavily on pro-industry talking points.”  Schade also said the report is misleading.  Schade said Sitton “would receive an F for this report at TAMU for blatant plagiarism.”  According to Schade, “The metric itself is not too useful from an environmental point of view, because what matters to the environment is the total amount of flaring…”   

The Texas Railroad Commission was sued earlier this year for its practice of always granting flaring permits.  Over the past 7 years the Commission granted all of the more than 27,000 requests for flaring permits that came to the agency for review.   

Thankfully, Sitton lost in the primary.