At Sand Hills in Crane County, problems also began on Feb. 14, when pressure dropped “due to a loss of air compressors caused by freezing in the lines,” according to Targa’s report to TCEQ. Power outages compounded the issue and caused unauthorized emissions to last for four and a half days. Separately, Sand Hills reported that its CM-14 acid gas compressor failed for 12 hours, resulting in more emissions.

TCEQ is “evaluating” the emissions events at Sand Hills and Wildcat, the regulator said in a statement. “There are no current formal enforcement action being processed.” TCEQ last conducted an on-site investigation of Sand Hills in October, which resulted in a “notice of violation” for not reporting all emission events. The regulator hasn’t conducted an on-site investigation of Wildcat but has probed its emissions events, it said.

“The volume of emissions points to a complete failure at both plants,” said Colin Leyden, a director at Environmental Defense Fund. “We suspect that these large vents are happening frequently.”

Indeed, analysis of more than 200 reports made by Sand Hills to TCEQ of unauthorized pollution since 2019 shows that the plant pumped out even more emissions over three days in March 2020. In a filing, Targa said an acid gas compressor “shut down due to multiple mechanical failures” resulting in 444,010 pounds of sulfur dioxide emissions. That’s about 22 times the amount of sulfur dioxide Motiva’s Port Arthur refinery released during the Texas winter storm.

The culprit in the March 2020 event? The same acid gas compressor, CM-14.

So far, scrutiny of the shale industry’s environmental footprint has mostly focused on oil producers flaring and venting gas. For years, much of the industry preferred to burn the fuel or simply let it escape into the atmosphere rather than pay for the pipes and processing needed to bring it to customers.

With little oversight from Texas regulators, who famously went years without denying a flaring permit, the result was environmental damage and enormous economic waste. Producers flared or vented 1.47 billion cubic feet of natural gas a day in June 2019, according to Rystad. That’s enough to supply 11% of the entire country’s residential consumption. Burning gas turns it into carbon dioxide while venting emits methane, an even more potent greenhouse gas.

The Covid-19 pandemic and subsequent oil-price crash caused shale operators to cut production, leading to significantly less flaring. The good news is that even as output rebounds this year, upstream flaring is nearly 70% below its peak as operators respond to environmental concerns about the practice, according to Rystad.

The bad news is there has been no comparable reduction among gas processing facilities, which are typically owned by pipeline operators that have a lower profile among investors and the public, according to Rystad’s Abramov. They now account for about a third of all U.S. oil and gas flaring, with volumes little changed over the past three years, according to Rystad.

The measure passed last month by the Texas Senate, however, would require the owners of all power generators, transmission lines, natural gas facilities and pipelines to protect their facilities against extreme weather or face a penalty of up to $1 million a day. The bill still needs approval by the state’s House of Representatives.

“There needs to be much more oversight in the midstream,” said EDF’s Leyden. “There are 150 to 200 of these facilities across the Permian and obviously they’re capable of large emissions.”

This article was provided by Bloomberg News.

First « 1 2 » Next