30 Permian Basin Facilities Leak Half a Million Cars’ Worth of Methane, Report Finds

Gas flaring at a facility in the Permian Basin.
Gas flaring at a facility in the Permian Basin. Spencer Platt / Getty Images

As the largest oil-producing region in the U.S., the Permian Basin in Texas and New Mexico is already a nightmare from a climate perspective. 

But now a new report from Carbon Mapper and Environmental Defense Fund (EDF) reveals that oil and gas facilities in the area are emitting unnecessary greenhouse gas emissions in the form of half a million cars’ worth of methane

“In this decisive decade for reducing greenhouse gas emissions every molecule matters, and the fact that some facilities are persistently leaking methane for years without detection or repair highlights the urgent need for comprehensive and transparent methane monitoring,” Riley Duren, chief executive officer for Carbon Mapper and research scientist at the University of Arizona, said in an EDF press release. 

The report is based on three years of aerial surveys of oil and gas facilities in the Permian Basin, taken from 2019 to 2021. The surveys revealed that around 30 facilities had consistently leaked large amounts of methane over multiple years. 

These facilities, which include pipelines, well pads, compressing stations and processing facilities, only account for less than 0.001 percent of the oil and gas infrastructure in the basin, yet stopping their flow of methane would keep 100,000 metric tons of methane out of the atmosphere every year and save $26 million a year in gas.

Methane is the second largest contributor to the climate crisis after carbon dioxide, Reuters reported. It lasts for a shorter time in the atmosphere, but while there it traps around 80 times as much heat as carbon dioxide, according to Yale Environment 360. The methane emissions in the report are the result of natural gas leaks, so eliminating those leaks is a relatively simple way to make a big contribution to fighting climate change. 

To that end, a group of more than 100 countries including the U.S. signed the Global Methane Pledge at COP26 in Glasgow last November to reduce methane emissions by 30 percent of 2020 levels by 2030, as Reuters reported at the time. 

At the same time, the Biden administration’s U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) announced new rules to reduce methane emissions from oil and gas wells, which it said would cut emissions of the potent gas by about 75 percent. The new rule is open for public comment until the end of January, and the agency will announce a related rule in the spring for flaring and smaller wells, Reuters reported. 

Overall, the report bolsters the idea that acting to control methane can make an important difference.

“The magnitude of emissions coming from a handful of methane sources in one of the top oil- and gas-producing regions illustrates the opportunity to make significant near-term progress toward the stated methane reduction goals of the U.S., other countries, and companies around the world,” Duren said in the press release.

The surveys identified almost 1,100 super methane emitters that contributed around half of the Permian Basin’s total methane emissions. However, many of these leaks were large but not long lasting.

The report did not name the companies responsible for the top emitting facilities, but Reuters identified the coordinates of the largest emitters as corresponding to facilities owned by Occidental Petroleum Corp, ConocoPhillips, Energy Transfer Partners, Callon Petroleum Co. and Coterra Energy.

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