Friday, February 3, 2012

Wyoming Takes Harder Look at Flaring Gas

This week the Wyoming State Board of Land Commissioners, which includes the top elected officials in the state, decided that it will take a larger role in determining whether or not a producer can flare or vent gas on state land.  The big issue at stake is whether the state can require a producer to pay royalties for the lost gas, as is done in Texas.

While this decision only affects a small number of wells and is being done for economic reasons, it should have a positive environmental impact as well.  Recent studies have pointed out that leaked or vented methane in natural gas is more harmful as a greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide (although CO2 has a longer life in the atmosphere).  While it's hard to measure precisely, a fair amount methane is being released in the drilling and transportation of gas, either leaked accidentally or purposely vented or flared when pipeline infrastructure is not in place (although flaring has more of a CO2 impact than methane impact).

There has been a rush towards drilling oil and liquids wells in the western states, and dry gas is an afterthought, so much so that producers would rather flare it than build pipelines to bring it to market.  I'm certainly not advocating putting additional gas on the market in the current environment, but if natural gas is really a "greener solution" to coal, the industry needs to tighten up its practices and equipment infrastructure to prove it.  Not only must drilling wells be perfectly executed to avoid leakage of fracking chemicals, but the extraction and handling of gas has to minimize leakage.

No comments: