AUSTIN -- As the Railroad Commission of Texas (RRC) prepares to hear from Chairman Wayne Christian’s Blue Ribbon Task Force for Oil Economic Recovery next Tuesday, June 16, Environment Texas Research and Policy Center has released a new report urging the RRC to address environmental damage from oil and gas production and to pause construction of new oil and gas infrastructure.
The report, A Cleaner Path for Oil in Texas: Recommendations to Protect our Environment and Health, appeals to the RRC and other state agencies to:
immediately limit flaring and methane pollution;
plug new and existing orphan wells;
uphold previously existing oil storage requirements instead of adopting less stringent standards; and
reject all newly proposed infrastructure projects such as oil and gas terminals, refineries, and pipelines.
“The damaging impacts of fossil fuels on Texas’ air, land, and water, will outlive us all,” said Emma Pabst, global warming solutions associate with Environment Texas Research and Policy Center. “It’s past time that we left fossil fuels in the dust and headed toward a cleaner future.”
According to the report, bankruptcies in the oil and gas sector could result in thousands of abandoned wells polluting Texas, and new oil storage facilities could contaminate surface and ground water such as the Edwards aquifer. The report also finds that new oil and gas infrastructure such as export terminals, refineries, and pipelines will substantially increase Texas’ global warming emissions, pollute water and destroy critical wildlife habitats.
"Climate change is a public health crisis. Texans deserve energy systems that do not release harmful emissions, threaten their communities with the next refinery explosion, or contaminate their drinking water and land,” said Tim Singer, a physician member of Doctors for Change. “Building sustainable energy infrastructure benefits our environment, economy, and health.”
Texas began the year with more than 200 fossil fuel projects planned or under construction. Despite the pressing crisis of COVID-19, the state of Texas allowed oil and gas infrastructure construction to continue. These projects, along with recently completed projects, would result in an emissions increase of at least 179 million tons of carbon dioxide equivalent by 2030, according to a 2020 University of Texas study -- equal to the annual emissions from 46 coal-fired power plants.
The report also contains key findings regarding flaring and orphan wells:
Flaring has increased four-fold since 2010 in the U.S. due to the shale boom.
Companies in the Permian Basin burned nearly 300 million cubic feet of methane via flaring in 2019 -- enough gas to provide electricity to 7 million homes for a year.
Although Texas has more than 6,000 orphan wells, the state plugged only 1,700 wells in 2019. In fiscal year 2015, bond money from oil and gas companies that went bankrupt covered less than 16 percent of what the RRC spent plugging wells, according to a 2017 Sunset Advisory Commission report.
Environment Texas Research & Policy Center is dedicated to protecting our air, water and open spaces. We work to protect the places we love, advance the environmental values we share, and win real results for our environment. For more information, visit www.environmenttexascenter.org.