The agency will use helicopters equipped with infrared cameras to check for methane and volatile organic compound (VOC) emissions. VOCs have long been regulated by the EPA and include gasses such as benzene, formaldehyde, methylene chloride, and more — some of which can be produced during the oil and gas mining process.
Methane regulation was ramped up this year after the Biden administration’s new rule, proposed last November, went into effect. It began as an Obama-era regulation, was rescinded by the Trump administration, and has now come full circle under the current administration.
“The Permian Basin accounts for 40 percent of our nation’s oil supply and has produced large quantities of dangerous VOCs and methane over the years, contributing to climate change and poor air quality,” said Region 6 EPA Administrator Dr. Earthea Nance in the release. “The flyovers are vital to identifying which facilities are responsible for the bulk of these emissions and therefore where reductions are most urgently needed.”
Environmentalists, with whom the current administration has been friendly, have long accused operators in the Permian Basin for emitting pollutants in the process of oil and gas production.
Local groups such as Earthworks Texas have ramped up their efforts filing complaints against operators alleging flaring malpractice with the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality.
Now, with a friendlier administration, the EPA is turning its attention to their cause.
Flaring is the practice of burning off excess gas that the operators are, for whatever reason, unable to repurpose into product. They do this rather than straight emitting the gasses.
Operators in the Permian have made large strides in flaring and emissions over the years — gains deemed insufficient by their ideological opposites.
According to a study by the Texas Railroad Commission, from June 2019 to May 2021, flaring intensity — the amount of gas flared per barrel of oil produced — among Texas producers decreased 70 percent. Throughout most of the last decade, methane flaring intensity decreased 64 percent, according to a 2019 report by Texans for Natural Gas.
“When the infrared camera detects hydrocarbon emissions during a flyover, a technician on board the helicopter will note the time, GPS location and other information about the emissions source,” reads the EPA announcement. “EPA will use this information to identify the facility that released the excess emissions and initiate enforcement follow up actions with the facility operator.”
Those found in violation may be penalized financially by the agency or the issuance of corrective actions.
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Brad Johnson is a senior reporter for The Texan and an Ohio native who graduated from the University of Cincinnati in 2017. He is an avid sports fan who most enjoys watching his favorite teams continue their title drought throughout his cognizant lifetime. In his free time, you may find Brad quoting Monty Python productions and trying to calculate the airspeed velocity of an unladen swallow.