Fracking and Methane in the Permian Basin

Whether vented, flared, or leaked, methane emissions are environmentally damaging, harmful to human health, and just wasteful. 

Al Braden | Used by permission

Methane, or natural gas, is a coproduct of oil production. It is a fossil fuel and major greenhouse gas. Most methane in the U.S. is obtained through hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, where liquids are injected into the earth in an attempt to crack open shale formations to extract the fossil fuels within. In the process, that methane may leak from pipelines, be simply vented into the air, or lit on fire and burned in a process known as flaring.  No matter how it is released, methane emissions are environmentally damaging, harmful to human health, and just wasteful. 

The Permian is the largest oil and gas basin in the United States and one of the most productive areas in the world. Covering over 86,000 square miles from just south of Lubbock, past Midland and Odessa, south nearly to the Rio Grande River, and into southeastern New Mexico, the greater Permian Basin accounts for nearly 40% of all oil production in the United States and nearly 15% of its natural gas production.

Fossil fuel production, however it is released, directly harms our citizens. Flaring often releases sulfur dioxide, ammonia, or volatile organic compounds (VOCs). Some of these compounds, such as benzene are known to cause cancer. Toluene is a neurotoxin that can cause miscarriages and birth defects. One recently published study examining the Eagle Ford Shale region found that “pregnant women who lived near areas where flaring is common had 50 percent greater odds of giving birth prematurely than those who did not.” In Ector County, 87.8% of residents live within half a mile of an active oil or gas well causing cancer, respiratory illnesses, neurological issues. Beyond the human suffering itself, these health effects have an estimated economic impact of $13-29 billion each year. 

Much of the extraction in the area is done by fracking, injecting fluids into rock formations under high pressure in an attempt to open fissure. It is one of the more dangerous ways to get to oil and gas deposits and has been linked to contaminated water, methane leaks, and even earthquakes. Methane releases are particularly environmentally damaging, harmful to human health, and economically irresponsible. As a side effect to oil production, Texas is responsible for producing the most methane emissions, accounting for 47% of vented and flared natural gas.

Leaks, flares, and vents all release potent greenhouse gases into the atmosphere. Flaring converts methane into VOCs, carbon dioxide, and water vapor which all contribute to climate change. Meanwhile, methane itself traps about 30 to 90 times more heat in the atmosphere than carbon dioxide and lasts in the atmosphere for decades. Due to its high effect and relatively low atmospheric lifespan, reducing methane emissions is one of the simplest, high impact actions we can take to reduce climate change. 

Fossil fuel production, however it is released, directly harms our citizens. Flaring often releases sulfur dioxide, ammonia, or volatile organic compounds (VOCs). Some of these compounds, such as benzene are known to cause cancer. Toluene is a neurotoxin that can cause miscarriages and birth defects. One recently published study examining the Eagle Ford Shale region found that “pregnant women who lived near areas where flaring is common had 50 percent greater odds of giving birth prematurely than those who did not.” In Ector County, 87.8% of residents live within half a mile of an active oil or gas well causing cancer, respiratory illnesses, neurological issues. Beyond the human suffering itself, these health effects have an estimated economic impact of $13-29 billion each year. 

Recently, Environment Texas traveled to Midland and Odessa, Texas in the Permian to hear the thoughts and opinions of people living and working near fossil fuel production sites. Please visit our series to read their stories. 

Recently, Environment Texas traveled to Midland and Odessa, Texas in the Permian to hear the thoughts and opinions of people living and working near fossil fuel production sites. This is a compilation video of highlights from those interviews.

Please visit our series to read their stories. 

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Michael Lewis

Clean Air and Water Advocate, Environment Texas

Michael works to promote clean air and clean water in Texas. Michael lives in central Texas with his family and spends most of his free time hiking and gaming.

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