Since the Eagle Ford oil boom began in 2009, the prolific development of the liquids-rich shale formation has put Texas in an enviable position on the world-stage as a top oil producer. As with any boom, there have been positives and negatives associated with development. This week, the San Antonio Express News published an investigative report highlighting one of the negatives - the flaring of natural gas. As companies have aggressively developed the Eagle Ford Shale to benefit from the current high price of oil, natural gas, a lower priced commodity, has been flared in the process. A lack of natural gas pipeline infrastructure in some areas has also contributed to flaring. Federal rules implemented in 2011 that require greenhouse gas permits for things like compressor stations and processing plants have likely tied up pipeline projects that would've otherwise been implemented. Still, pipeline companies, which generally conduct an open season prior to beginning construction on a project, have had trouble getting enough commitments for natural gas pipelines in other oily plays like the Bakken Shale in North Dakota, which is the second most significant U.S. domestic shale play to the Eagle Ford. The Bakken Shale currently flares nearly 30% of its natural gas.
According to the paper, oil producers flared and vented 32.7 billion cubic feet (Bcf) of casinghead gas from 2009 to 2012. That's nearly 8% of all casinghead gas produced in the region, and 10 times higher than the flaring rate in the rest of Texas. During the same time frame, La Salle County, a top producer in the play, flared or vented about a fifth of its production — more than 10 million cubic feet (MMcf). At oil wells in Atascosa and Frio Counties, energy firms flared a quarter of the 17 Bcf of casinghead gas they produced. Companies operating in Wilson County produced nearly 1.4 Bcf of gas from oil wells, but flared or vented more than a third of it.
The question is could flaring be affecting health and quality of life. For some South Texas residents, there's no question - Yes! The paper revealed that an estimated 15,000 tons of volatile organic compounds and other contaminants were released into the air in 2012 from flaring.